13
Apr
12

Exhibition: ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson / Paul Strand, Mexico 1932-1934’ at HCB Foundation, Paris

Exhibition dates: 11th January – 22nd April 2012

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Mexico' 1934

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Mexico
1934
Gelatin silver print
© Magnum, Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation

 

 

“The American’s immobility contrasts with [the] Frenchman’s fluidity.”

Press releases should be very careful when making such sweeping generalisations. Personally I find the photographs of Cartier-Bresson the more static (both physical and psychological) of the two photographers. The compartmentalisation of space in Bresson’s photographs – the use of diagonals and verticals – is more fixed than in the sensuous Strand, the emotions more didactic and formalised even as they seek the spontaneity of photojournalism. The placement of the two figures in Strand’s Men of Santa Ana (1933, below) is superlative, with the central dividing column and combination of tones and textures, father and son(?), stares and postures. Cartier-Bresson’s Prostitute (1934, below) is simpler in pose and purpose but we must remember this was a twenty-six year old photographer still finding his voice in the world, whereas Strand was a much older person and a more experienced photographer.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Natcho Aguirre, Santa Clara, Mexico' 1934

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Natcho Aguirre, Santa Clara, Mexico
1934
Gelatin silver print
© Magnum, Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation

 

Paul Strand. 'Nets, Michoacan' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Nets, Michoacan
1933
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Strand

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976) 'Near Saltillo' 1932

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Near Saltillo
1932
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Strand

 

 

Bringing together such different works by two great masters in the history of photography is not self-evident. There are many points of convergence, but their styles are profoundly different. The American’s immobility contrasts with Frenchman’s fluidity. They both travelled to Mexico during the same period and they crossed paths in New York in 1935 when they joined the political filmmakers’ group Nykino (which later became Frontier Films) in order to explore filmmaking at a critical point in their respective careers.

In autumn 1932, Paul Strand (1890-1976) set out for Mexico by car at the invitation of the Mexican Ministry of Education. He exhibited his photographs there and had the pleasure of witnessing the popular success of his images. It was in the course of working in the streets of Mexico, a practice which he had abandoned for many years, that Strand took up a different documentary style. At that point, he received a proposal to make a series of films. In 1934, he shot Redes (released in English as The Wave), a ‘docu-fiction’ about the oppression of the fishermen in the village of Alvarado. The film was screened in Mexico in 1936, and subsequently in the United States and France. In 1950, fleeing the climate of McCarthyism in the United States, he came to France and ultimately settled in the village of Orgeval, where he remained until the end of his life.

In 1934, Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), who was eighteen years younger than Strand, signed up for a French ethnographic mission which was supposed to take him to Argentina. In the end, the mission was suspended and the twenty-six-year-old photographer spent a year in Mexico, literally fascinated by the country. He worked for several newspapers there, moved in intellectual and artistic circles together with his sister and worried about his future. In March 1935, he exhibited his work at the Palacio de Bellas Artes with Mexican photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo. The local press reacted favourably and the young Frenchman contacted New York art dealer Julien Levy – who had already exhibited him in 1933 – to suggest a show of his recent work. He left Mexico with the firm intention of becoming a filmmaker and thus headed straight for the Nykino group. Strand’s prints come from various international collections; those of Cartier-Bresson belong to the Fondation HCB archives.

Press release from the HCB Foundation website

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Prostitute, Calle Cuauhtemoctzin, Mexico' 1934

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Prostitute, Calle Cuauhtemoctzin, Mexico
1934
Gelatin silver print
© Magnum, Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation

 

Paul Strand. 'Men of Santa Ana, Lake Patzcuaro Michoacan' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Men of Santa Ana, Lake Patzcuaro Michoacan
1933
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Strand

 

 

From January 11 to April 22, 2012, the HCB Foundation will pay tribute to two great masters of photography: Henri Cartier-Bresson and Paul Strand. The perspective of their work on Mexico between 1932 and 1934 will be an opportunity for the public to discover two visions of the same country and especially two approaches to photography.

In the fall of 1932, Paul Strand (1890-1976) left the United States and a personal life in crisis for Mexico. It was at the invitation of Carlos Chavez, whom he had met a little earlier and now responsible for culture at the Ministry of Education, that Strand discovered this country of which he said “I thought of Mexico as something mysterious, dark and dangerous, inhospitable.” However, Strand remained in Mexico for two years until his return to New York in December 1934.

The support of Carlos Chavez proved to be very important and enabled Strand to exhibit for the first time in Mexico at the Sala de Arte of the Ministry of Education in February 1933. After this first success, he left in the spring of 1933 to investigate Mexican arts and crafts in the state of Michoacán. Fascinated by the indigenous culture and the piety of the inhabitants, he brought back from this mission portraits of religious statues, men, women and children in the streets, landscapes and architecture.

He was then appointed director of photographic and cinematographic activities for the Ministry of Education and was entrusted with the production of a series of films on Mexico. He then worked on the script for his first feature film Redes, which is intended as a docu-fiction based on the struggle of a group of men, fishermen, against a corrupt society. The actors of the film are mainly the inhabitants of the village of Alvarado. The realisation is complex but the film is finally screened at the Juarez de Alvarado theatre on June 4, 1936. Barely a year later, it is under the title The Wave that the American public discovers this film very largely influenced by Russian cinema. Unfortunately, the new Mexican government set up in 1934 with the election of Lazaro Cardenas abandoned the film series project and Strand therefore decided to return to New York. He then abandoned photography, joined the association of filmmakers Nykino, devoted himself to political cinema and became president of Frontier Film, Nykino’s new name.

In 1940, thanks to the financial support of Virginia Stevens, his new wife, he published “Photographs of Mexico”, a portfolio, published in 250 copies, of 20 carefully assembled photogravures. A copy will be presented in the exhibition.

In 1951, when the witch hunt was launched in the United States by McCarthy, Strand decided to settle in Orgeval, France, where he would spend the end of his life.

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) landed in Mexico City in July 1934. He was part of an ethnographic mission led by Doctor Julio Brandan and supported by the Trocadéro Museum to follow the construction of a major Pan-American road. The mission got off to a bad start because the funding promised by the Mexican government was not forthcoming. The majority of the members of the expedition then returned to France, disappointed to see the project abandoned. But HCB decides to stay because “he feels a real crush on this country”. Nicknamed “the little Frenchman with shrimp cheeks” by Lupe Cervantes, his Mexican “fiancée”, Cartier-Bresson travels the country with his Leica. He therefore manages to survive in this country, befriends poets like Langston Hugues, Tonio Salazar or Natcho Aguirre, is passionate about muralists and their revolutionary frescoes, works for the press like Todo. He exhibited at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in March 1935 with the Mexican photographer Manuel Alvarez Bravo. “When he left, he declared himself a Frenchman from Mexico.”

During his stay, Henri Cartier-Bresson maintains frequent contact with the New York gallery owner Julien Levy and invites him to exhibit his recent photographs. This project will be carried out in April 1935 under the title “Documentary and Antigraphic photographs”. On this occasion, he will find the Mexican Manuel Alvarez Bravo and meet Walker Evans whom he deeply esteems. As soon as he arrived in New York, Henri Cartier-Bresson turned to cinema, “I stopped photographing in 1935, when I was in New York. Photography has always been for me only one of the different means of visual expression. […] I therefore started, with Paul Strand and with others, to learn cinema. I changed tools. Thanks to financial help from his parents, he bought a 35mm camera and joined the Nykino group. He learned a lot from this group of committed filmmakers and on his return to France, he assisted Jean Renoir on several of his films (La vie est à nous [Life is ours], Une partie de campagne [A country party]). It was not until 1937 that he left for Spain to make documentaries on the Spanish front. (Spain Will Live, Victory of Life, and With the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain)

Putting these two photographers into perspective is not easy. The convergences are numerous but the styles vary profoundly. The fluidity of the French contrasts with the immobility of the American. Both travel to Mexico at the same time, both meet in New York in 1935, when they join the group of committed filmmakers Nykino, to try a cinematic experience in a key phase of their two careers.

The exhibition presents 90 black and white prints: the works of Paul Strand come from Spanish, American and Mexican collections; those of Cartier-Bresson, some of which are unpublished, come from the collection of the HCB Foundation. The exhibition will be presented from May 13 to September 2, 2012 at the Point du Jour Center d’art in Cherbourg.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, published by Steidl, with a preface by Agnès Sire and an essay by Clément Chéroux.

Press dossier from HCB Foundation website translated from the French by Google Translate

 

Paul Strand. 'Woman of Alvarado, Veracruz' 1933

 

Paul Strand (American, 1890-1976)
Woman of Alvarado, Veracruz
1933
Gelatin silver print
© Paul Strand

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Mexico' 1934

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Mexico
1934
Gelatin silver print
© Magnum, Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation

 

 

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
79 rue des Archives
75003 Paris

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 7pm
Closed Mondays

Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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