Exhibition: ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson. The Geometry of the Moment “Landscapes'” at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg

Exhibition dates: 3rd September 2011 – 13th May 2012


Many thankx to the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg 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 (French, 1908-2004) 'FRANCE. Brie. 1968'


Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
FRANCE. Brie. 1968
Gelatin silver print
© Henri Cartier-Bresson /Magnum Photos



To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It’s a way of life.

To take a photograph is to hold one’s breath when all faculties converge in the face of fleeting reality.

Henri Cartier-Bresson



Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004) 'SOVIET UNION. Armenia. Visitors at village on the Lake Sevan. 1972'


Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
SOVIET UNION. Armenia. Visitors at village on the Lake Sevan. 1972.
Gelatin silver print
© Henri Cartier-Bresson /Magnum Photos


Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004) 'FRANCE. Alpes de Haute-Provence. Near Cereste. 1999'


Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
FRANCE. Alpes de Haute-Provence. Near Cereste. 1999.
Gelatin silver print
© Henri Cartier-Bresson /Magnum Photos



Henri Cartier-Bresson was one of the most accomplished and influential photographers of the 20th century; he was the acknowledged ‘master of the moment’, and many of his images are veritable masterpieces of photographic history. With this exhibition, the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg is featuring another pioneering figure in its series of shows on great modernist photographers, which has to date included Brassaï (2004), Lee Miller (2006) and Edward Steichen (2008). The around 100 exhibits included in this very personal exhibition were originally compiled by Henri Cartier-Bresson, who died in 2004, under the heading of Paysages (Landscapes). His widow, the photographer Martine Franck, has also agreed to lend a rare group of seven lithographs from her private collection exclusively for this presentation.

Born in 1908 in Chanteloup, near Paris, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s original ambition was to be a painter, but he abandoned his art studies after only a short time. In 1930 he decided to concentrate on photography. He later worked as second assistant to the film director Jean Renoir and also directed a number of his own documentary films. After escaping from a German prisoner-of-war camp on his third attempt in 1943 he joined the French Resistance, and in 1947 he founded the now world-famous Magnum photo agency with four colleagues.

During his photographic career Henri Cartier-Bresson travelled widely through Europe, Mexico, India, China, Indonesia, the United States of America and the former Soviet Union. He always used an inconspicuous Leica rangefinder camera, and it was on these travels between 1933 and 1999 that the black-and-white landscape photographs were created. The impressive simplicity and precise composition of these images give them a meditative quality, and also show how strongly Cartier-Bresson’s photographic practice was influenced and inspired by Far Eastern philosophical concepts. In the mid-1960s Georges Braque had given him the book Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel; for Cartier-Bresson, this short monograph contained all the fundamental elements upon which his photographic aesthetic was based, above all because it described actual experience and dealt with every aspect of human life. It was the chronicle of a learning process, a questioning of the self, the pursuit of inner perfection and the achievement of harmony with the world.

All of Cartier-Bresson’s photographs have a black border around them [Marcus: not all!]. This characteristic feature is an explicit reference to the extreme precision of the photographer’s method, as it tells the viewer that the final image is exactly the same as the negative and has therefore not been cropped. The image was mentally ‘edited’ by the photographer as he took the picture – at the very moment when the shutter opened. His photographs contain all the key components: light and shadow, rigorous composition, the golden section, the element of chance. Using this ‘geometry of the moment’, he combined planes and lines, people and situations into a perfect arrangement.

The exhibition is arranged and constructed according to the principle of geometric composition. The Kunstmuseum commissioned the photo artist Frauke Eigen to design a concept for the presentation of the works. Past Cartier-Bresson exhibitions have always been arranged chronologically, thematically and geographically. Frauke Eigen has developed an innovative installation concept that shows the inner connection between the pictures through formal correspondences for the first time. Over and above the individual picture, the visitor becomes aware of how a design principles returns in the next picture in a modified fashion. The viewer can thus trace an abstract story of vivid forms from the first to last photograph, experiencing in the process something about the unique language of Henri Cartier-Bresson.

As a photographer, Cartier-Bresson’s style was marked by discretion and extreme sensitivity. He was also an incredibly self-effacing person: he rarely gave interviews and hated being photographed. In 1947, the Museum of Modern Art in New York even planned a large posthumous retrospective of his work, as they believed that he had been killed in the war. When Cartier-Bresson heard about this he decided to travel to the United States, and the exhibition was subsequently held with the artist present. The Frenchman loved stories like this.

Around 1973, at the height of his fame, Henri Cartier-Bresson abandoned photography and from then on only picked up his camera on rare occasions. Returning to his artistic roots, he devoted his time and energy to drawing, concentrating mainly on landscapes. He regarded this as merely a change in terms of ‘technique’, as his drawings were created with the same eye, the same sense of form and geometry as his photographs. For him, photography was an immediate action, whereas drawing was a form of meditation.

Sam Szafran, a painter and friend of Cartier-Bresson’s, once said to him: “In order to go fast you have to proceed very slowly. You have to observe, see how things occur, understand them, feel them, otherwise you will run into danger…”

In this sense, the exhibition The Geometry of the Moment, which has been organised in cooperation with the photo agency Magnum Photos, Paris and with the foundation HCB, Paris, forms the perfect complement to the large-scale thematic display The Art of Deceleration. Motion and Rest in Art from Caspar David Friedrich to Ai Weiwei, which will be shown in a parallel presentation at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg from 12 November 2011 onwards.

Press release from the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg website


Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004) 'Serbia. Bass player on the road Belgrade-Kraljevo, to play at a village festival near Rudnick' Yugoslavia 1965


Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Serbia. Bass player on the road Belgrade-Kraljevo, to play at a village festival near Rudnick
Yugoslavia 1965
Gelatin silver print
© Henri Cartier-Bresson /Magnum Photos


Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004) 'ITALY. Tuscany. Sienna. 1933'


Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
ITALY. Tuscany. Sienna. 1933.
© Henri Cartier-Bresson /Magnum Photos


“I was visiting the museum and happened to look out of an upstairs window, and saw this empty marketplace, stark in its lack of activity.”



Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
Abteilung Kommunikation
Hollerplatz 1 38440
Phone: +49 (0)5361 2669 69

Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday 11am – 6pm
Monday closed

Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg 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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