13
Apr
12

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

Exhibition dates: 11th January – 22nd April 2012

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“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.

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.

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Henri Cartier-Bresson
Mexico
1934
© Magnum, Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation

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Henri Cartier-Bresson
Natcho Aguirre, Santa Clara, Mexico
1934
© Magnum, Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation

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Paul Strand
Nets, Michoacan
1933
© Paul Strand

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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

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Henri Cartier-Bresson
Prostitute, Calle Cuauhtemoctzin, Mexico
1934
© Magnum, Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation

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Paul Strand
Men of Santa Ana, Lake Patzcuaro Michoacan
1933
© Paul Strand

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Paul Strand
Woman of Alvarado, Veracruz
1933
© Paul Strand

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Henri Cartier-Bresson
Mexico
1934
© Magnum, Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation

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Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation
90, Avenue du Maine, 48, rue de l’Ouest

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 1pm – 6.30pm
Saturday 11am – 6.45pm
Late night Wednesdays until 8.30pm
Closed on Mondays and between the exhibitions

Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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