Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Henri Cartier-Bresson, a French photographer, is often accorded the title of being the father of photojournalism. The master of all things candid photography, and one of the world’s early users of the 35 mm film, Cartier-Bresson is credited with the development of the concept of street photography and life reportage style, and even coined the term, “The Decisive Moment”, which has gone on to inspire generations and generations of photographers since.

In 1931, Cartier-Bresson went to Côte d’Ivoire in French Colonial Africa, where he survived by shooting game and selling the carcasses to the local villagers. His tryst with hunting got him to learn techniques that became a part of photography. Later, while still in Côte d’Ivoire, he wound up suffering under blackwater fever, which almost killed him. He was still feverish when he asked to have his funeral conducted, and asked to be arranged to be buried in Normandy – at that time, he decided to preserve the imagery from Côte d’Ivoire, and only seven photographs from that time there survived the tropics.

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When he got back to France, he took to photography with renewed vigour after surviving the illness. He saw a photograph by Hungarian photojournalist Martin Munkacsi, which showed three naked young African boys who were captured in near-silhouette while running into the surf of Lake Tanganyika. The photograph captured the freedom, grace and spontaneity of their activities, and the joy they felt at being alive. It inspired him to stop painting and to take up photography seriously. The next thing he did was to get himself the Leica camera with a 50mm lens, and that set him off on a lifelong journey of capturing a plethora of moments.

In his journey after that, Cartier-Bresson captured scenes in Berlin, Brussels, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest and Madrid. His work found a first exhibition in the Julien Levy Gallery in New York in 1932, and then later on at the Ateneo Club in Madrid.

Cartier-Bresson told stories through his photography in a way that left a legacy for the world to watch and follow. He enjoyed the anonymity that the little vantage point behind the lens offered him – and that allowed him to watch the most candid moments unfold, so he could comfortably preserve them in Polaroid.

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