Galerie Edwynn Houk is pleased to present a selection of exceedingly rare early prints by the legendary French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004). The exhibition is drawn from a number of private collections, including the family of the artist, and focuses predominantly on his work from the 1950s and 60s, around central Europe.
Originally trained as a painter in the studio of the Cubist artist and sculptor André Lhote, Henri Cartier-Bresson turned to photography out of frustration with his early painting. Inspired by his interaction with young members of the Surrealist movement, Cartier-Bresson recognized photography’s ability to “trap life” instantly. When he was twenty-four, Cartier-Bresson acquired a hand-held Leica camera, which would accompany him for the rest of his career. The Leica became an “extension of his eye” and enabled the artist to combat the “formal and unnatural behavior” of those who were aware of being photographed. Cartier-Bresson fully embraced the freedom and anonymity that this small camera gave him.
From the early Thirties, Cartier-Bresson traveled in Italy, Spain, and Mexico, seeking out the world of the “dispossessed, the marginal, and the illicit,” a world far from his bourgeois Paris upbringing, but a world which he eagerly accepted as his own: “I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, to preserve life in the act of living,” as seen in this iconic images of “Seville,” 1933 and “Calle Cuauhtemocztin,” 1934. His work from this period has been described by the former Museum of Modern Art curator Peter Galassi, as possessing the “unpredictable psychic force of straight photography” while simultaneously depicting the “street as an arena of adventure and fantasy only thinly disguised by the veneer of daily routine.”
Following the war in 1947, (during which Cartier Bresson spent 35 months in Nazi POW camps) Henri Cartier-Bresson founded the Magnum Photo Agency along with the other photojournalists including Robert Capa and David Seymour. A picture agency owned collectively by its members, Magnum was defined by Cartier-Bresson as “a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually." It is perhaps this spirit that is most clearly illustrated in this exhibition. In 1952, Henri Cartier-Bresson published his first book, the influential Images á la sauvette. In his 4,500-word preface, he quoted the 17th Century Cardinal de Retz, “"Il n'y a rien dans ce monde qui n'ait un moment decisif" ("There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment"). Dick Simon, of Simon & Schuster titled the United States edition of the book, The Decisive Moment, which developed into a way of seeing forever associated with the artist.
Henri Cartier-Bresson first exhibited in 1933 at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. He has been the subject of major exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, International Center of Photography, New York, Art Institute of Chicago, Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Galerie Beyeler, Basel, Bibliothèque Nationale and Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris. Cartier-Bresson died at the age of 94 in France.