Cartier-Bresson Henri
Valencia, Spain

Henri Cartier-Bresson

About the artist

1908 — 2004

Henri Cartier-Bresson, the humanist photographer at the forefront of a highly influential movement in twentieth-century French photography, had a bourgeois upbringing in Chanteloup-en-Brie, and later on the Rue de Lisbonne in Paris. His family's money allowed Henri to pursue art, his passion, and at nineteen he was enrolled in private art school. He studied under the French cubist painter and sculptor André Lhote, read Nietzsche and Marx extensively, and absorbed classical and Renaissance art at the Louvre.

Cartier-Bresson did not pick up a camera until twenty-one, and from 1931 began taking photography seriously. He shot at first on a 50mm Leica (later switching to 35mm film), capturing subjects who were unaware of the camera's presence and thus behaved naturally — a preference for candid photography would go on to define his signature style — and after travelling Europe, was first exhibited in New York in 1933.

A year later in Mexico, he co-exhibited alongside the highly influential Latin American photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo. In 1937, his pictures from the coronation of King George VI were published in Regards, the French weekly. Rather than focusing on the new monarch, Cartier-Bresson turned his camera on the ordinary subjects who lined the streets in vast numbers.

Alongside contemporaries such as the war photojournalist Robert Capa, Cartier-Bresson co-founded the agency Magnum Photos in 1947. The founders worked across the globe on individual assignments, with Cartier-Bresson focused on India and China. In 1948, he covered the funeral of Mahatma Gandhi. Cartier-Bresson described his own pictures as capturing 'the decisive moment,' and considered photography an alignment of mind, eye and heart. He would go on to be exhibited everywhere from Japan to Scotland, shoot for Vogue magazine and, with his second wife, have a daughter. 

He died in 2004, aged ninety-five, leaving behind a considerable legacy as a pioneer of street photography and one of the great artists to emerge from France in the twentieth century.

Technical information

Image 1: Valencia, Spain. 1933