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Death of Henri Cartier-Bresson
01 August 2004



The famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson died at his home in the Luberon region, southern France, at 95 on August 3rd 2004.

Born in Chanteloup in 1908, Henri Carier-Bresson, who founded with Robert Capa the Magnum photo agency in 1947, had a long and successful career until 1975. He also nurtured a passion fro drawing and painting and was persuaded by the publisher Tériade in 1975 to fulfil jis artistic career. From then on, he had several solo exhibitions showing notably drawings of nudes, landscapes and skeletons of animals.

Considered as one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, Cartier-Bresson had a great impact over scores of his colleagues and left an impressive production in the fields of photo reporting and artistic creation.

Born into a well-off family, he was above all a kind of anarchist though endowed with some immense knowledge. An admirer of Cézanne, Van Eyck, Piero della Francesca or Paolo Uccello, he carried out his trade with enormous talent and spontaneity.

Often guided by accidental meetings, Cartier-Bresson's main principle was to let a photo speak for itself and to be taken by the moment it was taken so as to produce a print that was above all mute in order to influence the heart, speaking of sensation, and the eyes.

With his Leica camera, Cartier-Bresson managed to capture thousands of impromptu scenes and situations and also produced numerous Surrealist prints that attracted the attention of André Breton and his friends. His photographs taken often on the run became known around the world and made him a master.

Impressed by Eugène Atget when he started his career, Cartier-Bresson first roamed in cabarets and brothels with his camera before he met Breton, Max Ernst, Dali or Crevel. Guided by his intuition he went on looking for emotions and sensations in trying to make the reality become fantastic. A real adventurer under the guise of a bourgeois he traveled a lot, notably in Africa, where he almost died from a serious illness, Italy and Mexico where he produced Surrealist prints always with a desire for spontaneity.

Captured by German troops shortly after the invasion of France in 1940 he managed to escape from a POW camp and soon turned to reporting, not because he wanted to free himself from Surrealism but for the simple fact that the world and the preoccupations of men had changed. In 1947, he founded the "Magnum" photo agency with Robert Capa and David "Chim" Seymour and then traveled to Asia wshere he covered many events, in particular the rise of Mao Tse Toung, the death of Gandhi and the independence of Indonesia.

Nurturing a deep passion for photoreporting, Cartier-Bresson became one of the favourite reporters of such magazines as "Paris-Match" or "Life" until he decided to put an end to his career as a photographer in order to devote his time to drawing. He then had several shows, like a retrospective exhibition of his photos at the French National Library in 2003..

Cartier-Bresson was better known abroad than in France, where he was ignored by the curators of most big museums. His secret was to take his time to record scenes, caught in the act as he said, that are today legendary. In fact, he lived day by day, taking the opportunity of observing the world, that of the 1930s until the 1960s, which was not yet dominated by speed.

Over the years, he produced a kind of journal via his photos and remained aloof from clans and political parties being a rebel or rather an anarchist who despised the poet Aragon and turned his back to Breton who had had the bad idea of criticising Giacometti, whom he considered as a great master.

Cartier-Bresson was driven by coïncidences during his career and despised the idea of seeing texts under his prints because they often changed their meanings. Besides, his association with Capa and Seymour enabled him to live comfortably as a photo-reporter though he always saw fit to do above all a clean job. Considering himself as the heir of a tradiction initiated by Walker Evans, he always thought that his role was merely to be a witness and refused to be the standard bearer of any idea. He had much trust in humanity but found society despicable and merely considered himself as a peeping tomr who wanted to show what he had captured as a Surrealist of reality. Finally, he liked the idea of being a thief, stealing images with the aptitude of giving back what had borrowed.

Cartier-Bresson, who studied painting with André Lhote en 1927, published in 1979 a book titled "HCB Photographe" and also exhibited in 1988 at the Centre national de la photographie at the palais de Tokyo before creating a foundation bearing his nom in 2003.
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