Henri Cartier-Bresson (Aug. 22, 1908 – Aug. 3, 2004), was a master photojournalist and street photographer who whose work continues to have a strong influence on photographers today. His work is most commonly referred to as “The Decisive Moment”, the title of a book he published in 1948, containing a portfolio of 126 images from both the East and the West, and a lengthy preface where he states, “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.”
Cartier-Bresson spent over thirty years photographing for Life and countless other journals. He traveled without bounds, capturing images from some of the most turbulent locations of the 20th century – the Spanish civil war, the liberation of Paris in 1944, the 1968 student rebellion in Paris, the fall of the Kuomintang in China to the communists, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the Berlin Wall, and the deserts of Egypt. Yet, some of his most famous photographs are of seemingly ordinary moments capturing daily life, the fleeting moments that are here and then gone.
As far as I am concerned, taking photographs is a means of understanding which cannot be separated from other means of visual expression. It is a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one’s own originality. It is a way of life. – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Cartier-Bresson exclusively used Leica 35mm rangefinder cameras and mostly one lens, the normal 50mm lens, to capture most of his iconic images. He’d use black tape to make the silver body more conspicuous, and was strongly against the use of flash. He composed his images in-camera and did not crop, making prints of the entire frame and insisting that they include a millimetre or so of the unexposed clear negative around the image, resulting in a black border. He said: “I’ve never been interested in the process of photography, never, never. Right from the beginning. For me, photography with a small camera like the Leica is an instant drawing.” Therefore, he never printed any of his own work, and chose instead to work with a printer to develop and produce his photographs.
Reality offers us such wealth that we must cut some of it out on the spot, simplify. The question is, do we always cut out what we should? While we’re working, we must be conscious of what we’re doing. Sometimes we have the feeling that we’ve taken a great photo, and yet we continue to unfold. We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole. – Henri Cartier-Bresson