Henri Cartier-Bresson at MoMA

Henri Cartier-Bresson at MoMA

Sarah Coffey
Jun 23, 2010

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) photographed the rise of the working leisure class, the industrialization of China, and pretty much most major world events from the 1930s to the 70s. This photograph of a riverbank picnic from 1938 epitomizes what became famously known as "eternity in an instant," the point at which the photographer's camera brought clarity and meaning to a moment fixed in time.

If you've got some spare time, we highly recommend checking out MoMA's exhibition of Cartier-Bresson's work, The Modern Century, which closes on June 28, 2010. We finally caught the show last weekend, and it's an engaging glimpse of people, places, and times that you're not likely to come by again.

In addition to news images, there are a number of portraits. Cartier-Bresson preferred to photograph well-known subjects in their homes, and the celebrities and intellectuals on view in this show include Coco Chanel, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Truman Capote, and Alberto Giacometti — each of them captured with the skill and sensitivity that Cartier-Bresson was blessed with.

Although he printed some color photographs over the course of his career, it was always the black and white image that Cartier-Bresson felt most comfortable with, and he — like the other members of his photographic agency, Magnum — disdained the way that magazines and newspapers often cropped images. The exhibition includes several of the original magazines and papers in which the photographer's work originally appeared — an interesting counterpoint to the framed gallery image.

If you aren't in New York or you don't have time to see the show before it closes, MoMA has produced a handsome book with an essay by Curator of Photography, Peter Galassi. The Modern Century is available through the MoMA Store for $75.


Photo #1
Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Juvisy, France. 1938
Gelatin silver print, printed 1947, 9 1/8 x 13 11/16" (23.3 x 34.8 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the photographer
© 2010 Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos, courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

Photo #2
Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Hyères, France. 1932
Gelatin silver print, 7 11/16 x 11 7/16" (19.6 x 29.1 cm)
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase
© 2010 Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos, courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century at MoMa
Review from the New York Times
Review from the New Yorker

Images used with permission from the Museum of Modern Art

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