Exhibition: ‘Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour’ at Somerset House, London

Exhibition dates: 8th November 2012 – 27th January 2013

Curator: William E. Ewing



Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Harlem, New York' 1947


Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Harlem, New York, 1947
Gelatin silver print / printed 1970s
Image: 29.1 x 19.6cm
Paper: 30.4 x 25.4cm
© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, Courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson



They may be channelling the master, but none does it like Cartier-Bresson. There is a spareness and spatial intensity to Cartier-Bresson’s work that is absolutely his own. Look at the photograph directly above (Harlem, New York, 1947). A railing leads the eye in bottom right, echoed by the bottom jamb of the window. The opening is set for the old man to perform complete with curtains, talking stage right. The jamb zig zags above a trilby-wearing, cigarette-smoking man’s head leading to a wire mesh fence that takes the eye out of the frame on the left. The two men, lower than the old man in the framed window, look in a completely different direction to him. Counterpoise. The image pulls in two directions. Above their head a series of cantilevered staircases ascends to the heavens, thought ascending. A masterpiece.

So many of the other photographers in this posting crowd the plane with people looking in all directions, closed off foregrounds or tensionless images. Images that are too complex or too simple. There is an opposition to Cartier-Bresson’s images that is difficult for the viewer to resolve neatly, yet they appear as if in perfect balance. Look at Brooklyn, New York, 1947 towards the bottom of the posting. Nothing in this still life is out of place (from the light to the multiple, overlapping shadows and the out of focus elements of the composition) yet there is humbling agony about the whole thing. It is almost is if he is saying, “cop a load of this, this is what I can see.” And what a fabulous eye it is.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to Somerset House for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


Alex Webb. 'Tehuantepec, Mexico' 1985


Alex Webb (American, b. 1952)
Tehuantepec, Mexico
71 x 47cm
Digital Type C print
© Alex Webb


Andy Freeberg. 'Sean Kelly, Art Basel Miami' 2010


Andy Freeberg (American, b. 1958)
Sean Kelly, Art Basel Miami
Artist: Kehinde Wiley
63 x 43cm
Pigment ink print
© Andy Freeberg
Courtesy Kopeikin Gallery


Carolyn Drake. 'New Kashgar. Kashgar, China'  2011


Carolyn Drake (American, b. 1971)
New Kashgar. Kashgar, China  
30.48 x 20.32cm
Digital Light Jet print
© Carolyn Drake 2012


Ernst Haas. 'New Orleans, USA' 1960


Ernst Haas (Austrian-American, 1921-1986)
New Orleans, USA,
Chromogenic archival print
50 x 35cm
© Ernst Haas Estate, New York


Helen Levitt. 'Cat next to red car, New York' 1973


Helen Levitt (American, 1913-2009)
Cat next to red car, New York,
Type C prints
18 x 12 inches
© Estate of Helen Levitt


Jeff Mermelstein. 'Untitled (Package Pile Up, New York City)' 1995


Jeff Mermelstein (American, b. 1957)
Untitled (Package Pile Up, New York City)
Chromogenic print
© Jeff Mermelstein
Courtesy Rick Wester Fine Art, New York



Positive View Foundation announces its inaugural exhibition Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour, to be held at Somerset House, 8 November 2012 – 27 January 2013. Curated by William A. Ewing, the exhibition will feature 10 Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs never before exhibited in the UK alongside over 75 works by 15 international contemporary photographers, including: Karl Baden (US), Carolyn Drake (US), Melanie Einzig (US), Andy Freeberg (US), Harry Gruyaert (Belgium), Ernst Haas (Austrian), Fred Herzog (Canadian), Saul Leiter (US), Helen Levitt (US), Jeff Mermelstein (US), Joel Meyerowitz (US), Trent Parke (Australian), Boris Savelev (Ukranian), Robert Walker (Canadian), and Alex Webb (US).

The extensive showcase will illustrate how photographers working in Europe and North America adopted and adapted the master’s ethos famously known as  ‘the decisive moment’ to their work in colour. Though they often departed from the concept in significant ways, something of that challenge remained: how to seize something that happens and capture it in the very moment that it takes place.

It is well-known that Cartier-Bresson was disparaging towards colour photography, which in the 1950s was in its early years of development, and his reasoning was based both on the technical and aesthetic limitations of the medium at the time. Curator William E. Ewing has conceived the exhibition in terms of, as he puts it, ‘challenge and response’. “This exhibition will show how Henri Cartier-Bresson, in spite of his skeptical attitude regarding the artistic value of colour photography, nevertheless exerted a powerful influence over photographers who took up the new medium and who were determined to put a personal stamp on it. In effect, his criticisms of colour spurred on a new generation, determined to overcome the obstacles and prove him wrong. A Question of Colour simultaneously pays homage to a master who felt that black and white photography was the ideal medium, and could not be bettered, and to a group of photographers of the 20th and 21st centuries who chose the path of colour and made, and continue to make, great strides.”

Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour will feature a selection of photographers whose commitment to expression in colour was – or is – wholehearted and highly sophisticated, and which measured up to Cartier-Bresson’s essential requirement that content and form were in perfect balance. Some of these artists were Cartier-Bresson’s contemporaries, like Helen Levitt, or even, as with Ernst Haas, his friends; others, such as Fred Herzog in Vancouver, knew the artist’s seminal work across vast distances; others were junior colleagues, such as Harry Gruyaert, who found himself debating colour ferociously with the master; and others still, like Andy Freeberg or Carolyn Drake, never knew the man first-hand, but were deeply influenced by his example.

Press release from Somerset House website


Jeff Mermelstein. 'Unitled ($10 bill in mouth) New York City' 1992


Jeff Mermelstein (American, b. 1957)
Unitled ($10 bill in mouth) New York City, 1992
Chromogenic print
20 x 16 in.
© Jeff Mermelstein
Courtesy Rick Wester Fine Art, New York


Joel Meyerowitz. 'Madison Avenue, New York City 1975


Joel Meyerowitz (American, b. 1938)
Madison Avenue, New York City
Archival Pigment Print
© Joel Meyerowitz 2012
Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC


Karl Baden. 'Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts' 2009


Karl Baden (American, b. 1952)
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
Archival Inkjet
40.64 x 54.19cm
© Karl Baden


Trent Parke. 'Man Vomiting, Gerald #1' 2006


Trent Parke (Australian, b. 1971)
Man Vomiting, Gerald #1
Type C print
© Trent Parke
Courtesy Magnum Photos


Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Brooklyn, New York' 1947


Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Brooklyn, New York, 1947
Gelatin silver print / printed in 2007
Image: 19.8 x 29.8cm
Paper: 22.9 x 30.4cm
© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, Courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson


Melanie Einzig. 'September 11th, New York' 2001


Melanie Einzig (American, b. 1967)
September 11th, New York 2001
21 x 33cm
Inkjet print
© Melanie Einzig 2012



Terrace Rooms & Courtyard Rooms, Somerset House
Strand, London, WC2R 1LA

Opening hours:
10am – 6pm daily

Somerset House 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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