Informative documentary on Henri Cartier-Bresson. It revolves around an exhibition put together by four leading London galleries on the occasion of Cartier-Bresson’s 90th birthday in 1998 (he passed away six years later in 2004).

Things I didn’t know about Cartier-Bresson:

  • He spoke English well and with little accent. I’d never heard him speak before and somehow I thought he would have a broad, stereotypical French accent, but he didn’t.
  • Although I knew that he had started as a painter, moved to photography, and then returned to drawing towards the end of his life I’d never seen examples of his non-photographic work until now. Not at all bad.
  • I hadn’t realized that he had studied the moving image and had worked on and even appeared in some movies in his native France (while working with Jean Renoir).

And some quotations:

  • “Photography is nothing more than instant drawing for me”
  • “It’s mere luck, photography, just luck” (Talking about ‘Behind the Gare Lazare’).
  • “Some of the boys are alive, some are dead, and some people are dead while they’re alive also” (talking about the Magnum photo archive).
  • “The thing that is wonderful is to watch him work and I’ve walked with him on the streets and seen him. He moves with great speed. He sees instantaneously and he does a sort of little ballet, like a little dance. He rises on his toes, the camera goes to the eye, the click comes and you don’t even know you’ve been photographed and he’s off to the next.” Eve Arnold (talking about Cartier-Bressons shooting style).
  • “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”
  • “Using a camera is for me keeping a diary, a visual diary just like some writers keep a journal. So in that sense I’m a journalist”
  • “Everything is just mere chance and the joy with the camera is to take that chance, to be available”.

At the very end of the documentary the interviewer says: “What do you say to people who call you the greatest photographer of the 20th century?” There’s a pause and then Cartier-Bresson leans in closely to the interviewer and with a smile and a twinkle in his eye whispers “Bullshit”.

I also came across this two part interview in the New York Times (you may have to be a subscriber to the NYT to get access however):

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