This week I was having a conversation with my brother about the concept that a picture paints a thousand words. The question we were debating is what is more important; people leaving their personal history through words or people leaving their personal history through photographs. There is a place for both and certainly this generation will obviously been geared towards the latter. Yet, after walking the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the MOMA on Saturday, I might lean towards saying a picture can capture it all.
Jessica was in town with her photography class and I met her at the MOMA to walk the exhibit. Both of us have actually been to the Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson located inside the Montparnasse section of Paris in a very cool glass building. They curate new exhibits like a museum, every few months. If you are in Paris, it is worth the trip.
The current Henri Cartier- Bresson exhibit at the MOMA is fantastic. Cartier-Bresson's photos capture people, time, cultures and travel like no other. A 35 millimeter around his neck and off he went. An incredible eye that allowed him the unique ability to take photos that read like a book. For instance, his photos taken in the US during the early 1960s show greed, racism and a under current of vulgarity. He saw what was happening, he was seeing the future. There is a quote, taken from him in 1952, which describes his look on life. He said,
It is through living that we discover ourselves, at the same time as we discover the world around us." In his photographs, he has done just that.
One section is devoted to portraits. He took people's portraits in their own personal settings. Someone asked him how long it took to capture someones likeness, his answer was, "longer than the dentist but shorter than the psychoanalyst." An incredible array of historical photos from Madame Lanvin, Truman Capote, Coco Chanel, Giacometti, John Huston, William Faulkner, Carl Jung, Louis Kahn to name a few. A serious range.
At one point in our history, companies started to hire photographers to come in and shoot what was happening in the day to day of their companies. He was hired to do a series for Bankers Trust in 1960. It is like watching Mad Men in stills.
He had traveled to Indonesia, Japan, China, England, Russia, Paris, Africa and more. After Stalin died, he was the first Western photographer allowed in to photograph Russia. The pictures are fascinating and enlightening as he returned to Russia 20 years later to publish pictures that were overwhelmingly grim and depressing.
From his photographs it is apparent what a brilliant man he was. His photos show his thoughts as he captures what he sees on film. It speaks to the viewer more than he probably could have if he had written down what he was witnessing.
Quite an incredible show, wonderfully curated. Something absolutely worth seeing. There wasn't a photo in the whole show that I wouldn't have been thrilled to bring home and hang on my wall. They are all that good.
Bresson is the greatest photographer of our time. The show is coming to sfmoma. Is there a good bresson book?
Yes. Order the book of the exhibit on line from the MOMA.