Henri Cartier-Bresson (born August 22, 1908 in Chanteloup-en-Brie, France – August 3, 2004 in Montjustin, France) was considered the master of candid photography, the father of modern photojournalism and 35mm format early adopter. Henri brought to life street photography and real life style that influenced many generations of photographers and worked exclusively in black and white.
Style French Photographer
Beginnings Henri came from a textile family, his father was a wealthy textile manufacturer whose Cartier-Bresson thread was popular with french sewing kits and his mother’s family were landowners and cotton merchants from Normandy. His family assumed Henri would follow in the family business but Henri was headstrong and was dead set against it. He studied at the catholic school Ecole Fenelon in Paris. After being unsuccessful in music his uncle Louis who was a gifted painter introduced Henri to oil painting. At the age of 19 Henri entered the private school Lhote Academy in Paris in 1927. Here in this school he would have this theoretical training of artistic forms and composition in photography. In 1928 thru 1929 Henry attended the University of Cambridge studying literature and English art. In 1930 he did his service duty in the French Army. Henri became inspired by a photograph of Martin Munkacsi and that photograph made him stop painting and take up photography as a serious career. In 1939 Henri joined the French Army again as a Corporal and during the Battle of France in 1940 was captured by the Germans and spent 35 months as a prisoner of war. He finally escaped on his third try. He then worked for the French underground, aiding other escapees and working as a photographer secretly. Once the war ended Henri was asked to make a documentary by the American Office of War Information called Le Retour (The Return) about the displaced and returning French prisoners. This was later leased in the United States in 1947 and from this a show was debuted in 1947 at the Museum of Modern Art together with his first book, The Photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Career In 1935 Henri Cartier-Bresson traveled to the United States on an invite to exhibit his work at New York’s Julien Levy Gallery. There he met American editor Carmel Snow of Harper’s Bazaar and it was Snow who was the first to publish Henri’s photographs in a magazine. His first photojournalist photos were published in the French weekly Regards when he covered the coronation of King George VI. He then worked as a photographer between 1937 and 1939 for the French Communist paper Ce Soir. In 1947 Henri with David Seymour, Robert Capa and George Rodger founded Magnum Photos. This team of photographers split and covered assignments all over the world.
Acting So Henri Cartier-Bresson could see how it felt to be on the other side of the camera, film director Jean Renoir put Henri in a few films. He was in the 1939 film Partie de campagne and in 1939 La Regle du jeu. Cartier-Bresson helped Renoir with 2 films for the Communist party on 200 families, one which showed in France. And during the Spanish civil war with Herbert Klein, Henri co-directed an anti-fascist film to promote the Republican medical services. There were also a number of films in France who compiled photographs by Henri from 1956 thru to 1997.
Notable Portrait Subjects and Moments Henri Cartier-Bresson photographed all of the following: Coco Chanel, Mahatma Gandhi, Langston Hughes, Martin Luther King, Jr., Henri Matisse, Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Richard Nixon, Pablo Picasso, Jean Renoir, Harry S. Truman and Malcolm X, And in 1948 Henri received international recognition for his coverage of Gandhi’s funeral in India.
Honors Henri received a number of awards including the Overseas Press Club of America Award four times, the The Prix de la Societe Francaise de Phtographie in 1959, the Hassleblad Award in 1982 and the Prix Nadar award in 2006 for his Henri Cartier-Bresson: Scrapbook photobook.
Public Collections and Exhibitions Henri has a number of public collections in the United States, France, United Kingdom, Japan, Israel and Sweden including works at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts in Texas and the J. Paul Getty Museum in California. Henri Cartier-Bresson has exhibitions through the entire world from 1933 all the way to 2009.
Death and Legacy Henri died of undisclosed causes on August 3, 2004 at age 95 in Montjustin, France. He is buried in the Montjustin, Alpes-de-Haute, France. He was survived by his wife, Martine and daughter Melanie who later created the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation in 2003 to preserve and share his legacy.