Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, born August 22, 1908–died August 3, 2004) was an influential artist and photographer of the 20th century. Considered an early pioneer of photojournalism, Cartier-Bresson began his artistic career studying painting with André Lhote. He took his first photographs when he traveled to Africa in 1931, and he continued with this medium upon returning to Europe. Cartier-Bresson’s photographs were published the following year in Arts et Metiers Graphiques.
The subsequent years brought the photographer’s exhibitions to Spain, Mexico, and the United States. While in New York, he studied the art of motion pictures, and later assisted the director Jean Renoir with Partie de Campagne, a short film considered exemplary of Impressionist cinema. In 1937, Cartier-Bresson directed a documentary on healthcare in Spain, and photographed the coronation of Great Britain’s George VI. His travels and subjects sometimes brought unwanted attention, such as when he was incarcerated in Nazi Germany in 1940, while serving in the French army. Escaping on his third attempt, he later covered the liberation of France, and filmed a documentary on war reparations. Many in the United States believed him to have perished in the war, so Cartier-Bresson traveled to New York in 1946 to open an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art. The following year, he established Magnum Photos, a photographer-owned cooperative, with Robert Capa, David Seymour, William Vandivert, and George Rodger.
The following years found the photographer in the Far East, covering the death of Ghandi, the rise of Communist China, and the Indonesian independence movement. Cartier-Bresson spent most of the 1950s back in Europe publishing books of his photographic essays. The next decade, however, provided many more travel opportunities, including visits to Fidel Castro’s Cuba, Japan, and the United States. While in America, he directed two documentaries for CBS News.
In 1975, he gave up photography to return to painting. His photographic legacy is summarized by his own book, Images à la Sauvette, or The Decisive Moment. Cartier-Bresson’s ability to capture the split second when a decision was made or when a course was reversed brought power to his pictures, a power many succeeding generations of photographer still seek to re-create. The artist died on August 3, 2004. - artnet