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Who is Henri Cartier-Bresson?

Image source: By Martine Franck / Magnum Photos / Fondation HCB -, Fair use,

Henri Cartier-Bresson is widely regarded as one of the greatest photographers of all time. He was a master of capturing the decisive moment, a term he coined to describe the split second when everything comes together in a photograph. In this blog post, we will explore Henri Cartier-Bresson’s life and work, and his influence on photography.

Henri Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment
Henri Cartier-Bresson’s 1932 image that inspired “The Decisive Moment”, which shaped the future of photography, street photography, and defined photography as a genre separate from oil painting form of art.

Henri Cartier-Bresson was born in 1908 in Chanteloup-en-Brie, France. He was interested in photography from a young age and began taking pictures with a Box Brownie camera. In 1930, he traveled to Africa and took his first serious photographs. He then returned to France and started to work as a photographer.

In 1932, Cartier-Bresson co-founded the Magnum Photos agency with Robert Capa, David Seymour, George Rodger, and William Vandivert. Magnum Photos was the first photographic agency that was owned and operated by photographers, and it was established to give photographers greater control over their work.

Cartier-Bresson’s style of photography was influenced by his interest in painting and Surrealism. He often composed his images in a way that resembled a painting, using strong diagonals and framing his subjects in unusual ways. He was also interested in the unconscious mind and often used the techniques of Surrealism to create dreamlike images.

Photo shoot with Wendy Lu at Old Treasury Building in Melbourne CBD
Photo shoot with Wendy Lu at Old Treasury Building in Melbourne CBD

Cartier-Bresson’s most famous concept is the decisive moment, which he described 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.” He believed that photography was about capturing the perfect moment, when everything comes together to create a powerful image.

Cartier-Bresson’s work often focused on people and their interactions with each other and their surroundings. He was known for his ability to capture the essence of a place or a moment, using his camera to freeze time and create a lasting image.

A bout in the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament
A bout in the controversial Nagoya summer Grand Sumo Tournament held on the 14th and second final day.

One of Cartier-Bresson’s most famous photographs is “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare,” which shows a man jumping over a puddle of water. The photograph is a perfect example of the decisive moment, capturing the split second when the man is suspended in mid-air, and the water droplets are frozen in time.

Cartier-Bresson’s influence on photography cannot be overstated. His emphasis on the decisive moment has inspired generations of photographers, and his work continues to be studied and admired today. He was a master of composition and timing, and his photographs are a testament to his unique vision and talent.

In conclusion, Henri Cartier-Bresson was a pioneer in the field of photography and an innovator in capturing the decisive moment. His legacy continues to inspire photographers around the world, and his work remains as relevant today as it was when he first picked up a camera.

Scenes at Woolamai Beach and the Surfing Victoria competition
Scenes at Woolamai Beach and the Surfing Victoria competition