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  • by Laurent Goldstein

Henri Cartier-Bresson in India / The Decisive Moment

Henri Cartier-Bresson (August 22, 1908 – August 3, 2004) was a French photographer considered to be the father of modern photojournalism.

He was an early adopter of 35 mm format, and the master of candid photography.

He helped develop the "street photography" or "life reportage" style that has influenced generations of photographers who followed.

Cartier-Bresson was one of the most dogged and respected witnesses to the last century, seemingly always in the right place at the right time to record its political horrors and struggles.

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s record of his lifelong fascination with India contains the very best of his photographs of that country, images shaped by an eye and a mind legendary for their empathy and ability to get to the heart of the matter.

The first pictures were taken in 1947 (on behalf of Magnum, the photo agency he had co-founded the previous year with the legendary war photographer Robert Capa) at the time of Independence; the last when the photographer was well into his eighties.

Cartier-Bresson’s talent, his famous ‘mantle of invisibility’ and his good connections with such figures as Nehru and the Mountbattens allow him to portray all the contradictions and variety of India.

Much space is given to his famous reportages, such as the astonishing sequence on the death and cremation of Gandhi, and the refugee camps that formed following the Partition.

Time after time, Cartier-Bresson captures the essence of each event.

But above all, his skill selects the apparently ordinary faces and scenes that define the spirit of a country.

Cartier-Bresson hated being called a globetrotter:

"Once I have arrived in a new country, I feel almost like settling down there so as to live on proper terms with the country," he said.

He didn’t like to rush, and habitually walked thirty or forty kilometres a day in search of inspiration.

He hated flying – "a silly way of travelling, most unintelligent if not unsafe" – and maintained that planes would create "generations of little cretins, especially in our line of work."

His 1952 book was appropriately called Images à la sauvette ('Images on the Run’).

Released in English as The Decisive Moment, it almost single-handedly kept the foundering Magnum afloat. "Oop! The Moment!" he exclaimed of the creative fraction of a second when you took a picture, "Once you miss it, it is gone forever."

Cartier-Bresson opened the path of modern photography and his iconic pictures have always been a great inspiration and definitely the reason why I take pictures in India.

Somehow watching his work has contributed to shape my eye and it is fantastic when by chance I realize that I am in the same landscape, building or street that he once photographed.

Then it is as if he was still alive and giving a masterclass.

Many years ago when I started showing my work in India, I was very lucky and blessed to have Raghu Rai as the guest of honor of one of my first exhibitions in Delhi.

Raghu Rai was a protégé of Henri Cartier-Bresson who appointed him, then a young photojournalist, to Magnum Photos in 1977.

It allowed me to dream that I was a part of the full circle even though I was only in the distance of some dust star...

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