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August 05, 2004

Henri Cartier-Bresson

The master is dead.

"Henri Cartier-Bresson" were the first French words I ever learned. My father insisted repeatedly that my pronunciation could be improved. He wasn't satisfied until I got it right, and so I learned to respect a man I had never heard of before and have rarely heard about since.

Cartier-Bresson was a great inspiration to Pops, who began Wellington House Photographics in the 70s. In reviewing the Frenchman's work today at the NYT I can see his influence. I've long had a great fondness for photojournalism and pored over Time Life books as a kid. There can be such truth in a photograph. It is a subtle art which is underappreciated in our country. And yet serious photographers and photography persists. Every once in a while a great photo captures the public imagination such as the one of the Abu Ghraib prisoner.

As an inspiration, Cartier-Bresson was peerless, and yet somehow I think it was lost on most of us. His portraiture is startlingly honest without being obsessive or perverse like that of Arbus or glossy and artsy like that of Mapplethorpe, or devoid of intellectual challenge like that of Wegman. I think it says a great deal about the way our culture chooses to look at people that defines much of what photography is, and Cartier-Bresson shows us what we are missing.

His tenderness with subjects and lack of finickiness with the process (unlike Adams) reveal as much about the character behind the camera as the subject in front of the lens. Finally, it is the eye behind the camera we admire for allowing us to see and feel sympathy for those captured on film.

Merci Henri.

Posted by mbowen at August 5, 2004 09:15 AM

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