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Henri Cartier-Bresson was a French photographer whose humane, spontaneous photographs helped establish photojournalism as an art form.
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Henri Cartier-Bresson was born on August 22, 1908 in Chanteloup, France. A pioneer in photojournalism, Cartier-Bresson wandered around the world with his camera, becoming totally immersed in his current environment. Considered one of the major artists of the 20th century, he covered many of the world biggest events from the Spanish Civil War to the French uprisings in 1968.
"In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little, human detail can become a Leitmotiv."
"Photography is an immediate reaction, drawing is a meditation."
Widely considered one of the leading artistic forces of the 20th century, Henri Cartier-Bresson was born on August 22, 1908 in Chanteloup, France. The oldest of five children, his family was wealthy—his father made a fortune as a textile manufacturer—but Cartier-Bresson later joked that due to his parents' frugal ways, it often seemed as though his family was poor.
Educated in Paris, Cartier-Bresson developed an early love for literature and the arts. Creativity was certainly a part of his DNA. His great-grandfather had been artist and an uncle was a noted printer. Even his father dabbled in drawing.
As a teenager, Cartier-Bresson rebelled against his parents' formal ways. Early in his adult he drifted toward communism. But it was art that remained at the center of his life. In 1927 he began a two-year stint studying painting under noted early Cubist, André Lhote, then moved to Cambridge University to immerse himself further in art and literature courses.
Sparked by the avant-garde scene enveloping Paris, and fresh from his release from the Army, which had stationed him just outside Paris, Cartier-Bresson traveled to Africa in 1931 to hunt antelope and boar. Uninterested in actually eating what he'd tracked down, Cartier-Bresson eventually grew tired of the sport and gave it up.
But Africa did fuel another interest in him: photography. He experimented with a simple Brownie he'd received as a gift, taking pictures of the new world around him. For Cartier-Bresson there were direct parallels between his old passion and his new one.
"I adore shooting photographs," he'd later note. "It's like being a hunter. But some hunters are vegetarians—which is my relationship to photography." In short, as his frustrated editors would soon discover, Cartier-Bresson preferred taking shots rather than making prints and showing his work.
Upon returning to France later that year, Cartier-Bresson purchased his first 35mm Leica, a camera whose simple style and stunning results would help define the photographer's work.
For the rest of his life, in fact, Cartier-Bresson's approach to photography would remain much the same. He made clear his disdain for the augmented image, one that had been enhanced by artificial light, dark room effects, even cropping. The naturalist in Cartier-Bresson believed that all edits should be done when the image was made. His equipment load was often light: a 50mm lens and if he needed it, a longer 90mm lens.
Cartier-Bresson's rise as a photographer proved rapid. By the mid 1930s he'd shown his work in major exhibits in Mexico, New York, and Madrid.
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