August 05, 2004

A Humanitarian Indifferent to People?

For my money, the 20th Century's greatest photographer died today.

Here's an interesting snippet from the NYT obit:

Critics have sometimes complained about the intrusiveness of photojournalists like Cartier-Bresson. John Malcolm Brinnin, who traveled across the United States with him in 1946, later called him "a humanitarian indifferent to people." Cartier-Bresson heard this criticism and replied: "There is something appalling about photographing people. It is certainly some sort of violation; so if sensitivity is lacking, there can be something barbaric about it."

Cartier-Bresson was blessed--he had that sensitivity. His art rarely feels exploitative--something that can't be said for many photojournalists plying their trade today.

Cartier-Bresson also coined the phrase the "decisive moment," which he defined as: "the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression." Put differently, you either 'have it or you don't' when the shutter clicks. And, much more often than not, Cartier-Bresson definitively had it. Thus did he transcend the ranks of mere snap-shooters--often merely at the right place at the right time and blessed with a good dose of luck.

I was always partial to his amazing portraits. Who, familiar with Ezra Pound's tortuous and complex life, doesn't appreciate this amazing shot of this tired man at the end of his turbulent, controversial days?

ezra2.bmp

But some of his 'documentary' style shots--like this street scene of the Jewish quarter in Baghdad circa 1950--are hugely impressive too.

baghdad.bmp

Adieu, Henri!

Posted by Gregory at August 5, 2004 01:06 AM
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