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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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His images revealed the early raw possibilities of street photography and photojournalism in general.
During an exhibit of his prints in New York in 1935 Cartier-Bresson befriended another photographer, Paul Strand, who'd begun to experiment with film. Inspired by what he saw, Cartier-Bresson abandoned photography and returned to France where he took work as an assistant with French filmmaker Jean Renoir. Over the next three years,
Cartier-Bresson worked on a handful of Renoir films, including his most critically acclaimed, La Règle Du Jeu (1939).
But the documentarian in Cartier-Bresson had no use or particular talent for directing feature films. Instead, he was drawn to showing real stories about real life.
His own life took a dramatic turn in 1940 following the German invasion of France. Cartier-Bresson joined the army but was soon captured by German forces and forced into prison-of-war camp for the next three years.
In 1943, after two failed attempts, Cartier-Bresson escaped for good and immediately returned to his photography and film work. He created a photo department for the resistance and following the end of the war, was commissioned by the United States to direct a documentary about the return of French prisoners.
Not long after the war, Cartier-Bresson traveled east, spending considerable time in India, where he met and photographed Mahatma Gandhi shortly before his assassination in 1948. Cartier-Bresson's subsequent work to document Gandhi's death and its immediate impact on the country became one of Life Magazine's most prized photo essays.
His work to solidify photojournalism as legitimate news and art form went beyond what he did behind the camera. In 1947 he teamed up Robert Capa, George Rodger, David 'Chim' Seymour, and William Vandivert, and founded Magnum Photos, one of the world's premier photo agency.
A wanderlust at heart, Cartier-Bresson's interest in the world led him on a three-year odyssey through Asia. When the photographer returned to France in 1952 he published his first book, The Decisive Moment, a rich collection of his work spanning two decades.
More importantly, perhaps, the book cemented Cartier-Bresson as a photographer with a heart. Over the course of his long career he hauled his Leica around the world to document and show triumph and tragedy in all its forms. He was there for the Spanish Civil War and the Chinese revolution. He documented George VI's coronation and told the story of Khrushchev's Russia. His subjects ranged from Che Guevara to Marilyn Monroe, while his magazine clients ran the gamut, including not just Life, but Harper's Bazaar, Vogue and many others.
In 1966, Cartier-Bresson quit Magnum and began to turn his focus to where it had once been: on drawing and painting. He disdained doing interviews and refused to talk much about his previous career as a photographer, seemingly content to bury himself in his notebooks, sketching out landscapes and figurines.
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