Posts Tagged ‘Cartier-Bresson Images à la Sauvette

04
Apr
17

Exhibition: ‘Images à la Sauvette’ at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

Exhibition dates: 11th January – 23rd April 2017

 

No more, decisive moment

Following the relatively unknown photocollages of Josef Albers, a posting on one of the most famous artist books in the world, Images à la Sauvette (Images on the fly, Images on the run) – the American publishers Simon and Schuster choosing the punchier The Decisive Moment as the title of the American version.

While individual images are interesting, it is “the unique narrative form and the emphasis on the photographer’s text” in terms of the image layout and composition of the book that is so groundbreaking an aspect of the work. Cartier-Bresson sought not to capture one reality – the “decisive moment” – but a poetic reality based on the “impulsiveness of a desire, the personal anxiety in face of a moment to preserve.” It was his almost uncanny ability to pre-visualise the desire for a poetic moment (to visualise its emergence), and then translate that desire into images, that makes him such a great artist.

Agnès Sire observes in her text “De l’errance de l’oeil au moment qui s’impose, quelques pistes pour mieux voir,” (From the wandering of the eye to the right moment, a few ways to see better):

“In 1974, Cartier-Bresson would admit: “For me, the Leica is a sketchbook, a psychoanalyst’s couch, a machine gun, a big, hot kiss, an electromagnet, a memory, the mirror of memory.” There is no trace here of any supposed record of a reality, but rather, of memory (and thus the past), the psychoanalyst’s couch (to make the past re-emerge) and the mirror of memory (the image of the past). Clearly, this poetic accident does not lie within everyone’s reach but, through the camera, it presents itself to some, provided they are good at passing it on. And this is something which, according to Walker Evans, left no room for doubt in Cartier-Bresson’s case: “Cartier has always been a kind of spirit medium: poetry sometimes speaks through his camera.””

Thus the past, the image of the past and the transcendence of the past merge in the photography of Cartier-Bresson. In one image, and in the combination of images (much like the photocollages of Josef Albers), he lays out before us, “the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” Instructive to this aim are the page layouts of the book at the bottom of the posting. Pages are divided into three or fours spaces. In the first layout you look down, you are drawn into, you move horizontally across; human figures are isolated, silhouetted with shadow, in shadow, against form.

In the second layout the shapes and emotions form a complex relationship: movement across with thick vibration of energy behind the ecstatic child (top left); a child’s eye view of the world with a constellation of stars behind (top right); a picture frame on a fragmented world (Seville, 1933, bottom left); and the tethered beasts and stick-like children (bottom right). Now squint your eyes and move them from one quadrant to another.

This is complex and thoughtful image making, on both a human and poetic scale. If the photographic lens let Cartier-Bresson “look into the rubble of the unconscious and of chance,” then it took an informed and intelligent mind to understand what the lens was seeing, even before the images were made evident, and to then give those events proper expression.

Marcus

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

 

 

Magazines end up wrapping french fries, while books remain.

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Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

André Breton taught me to let the photographic lens look into the rubble of the unconscious and of chance.

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Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1995

 

“To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

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Extract from the text by Henri Cartier-Bresson, ‘The Decisive Moment’, Simon and Schuster, 1952

 

 

Cover by Henri Matisse of Henri Cartier-Bresson's 'Images à la Sauvette' (Verve, 1952)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952)
Cover by Henri Matisse
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Installation views of the exhibition 'Images à la Sauvette' at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

Installation views of the exhibition 'Images à la Sauvette' at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

 

Installation views of the exhibition Images à la Sauvette at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

 

 

From January 11 to April 23, 2017, the Foundation devotes an exhibition to Cartier-Bresson’s famous publication Images à la Sauvette. Initated by the French publisher Tériade, the project is finally achieved on October 1952 as a French-American co-edition, with the contribution of Matisse and the American publishers Simon and Schuster. The latter chose “The Decisive Moment” as the title of the American version, and unintentionally imposed the motto which would define Cartier-Bresson’s work. Since its publication in 1952, Images à la Sauvette has received an overwhelming success. It is considered as “a Bible for photographers” according to Robert Capa’s words. The innovative design of the publication struck the art world with its refined format, the heliogravure quality and the strength of the image sequences. The publication reveals the inherent duality of Cartier-Bresson’s work; between the photographer’s intimate interpretation and his documentary approach.

Images à la Sauvette is the fruit of joined efforts of a famous art publisher, Tériade, a talented photographer, a painter at the peak of his career, Matisse, and two American publishers, Simon and Schuster. From his beginnings, Cartier‑Bresson considers the book as the outcome of his work. In the thirties, he met the publisher of Verve, Tériade, who he would later likely acknowledge to be his mentor. They plan, at the time, to carry out a book project on large cities rough areas together with Eli Lotar, Bill Brandt and Brassaï, but this ambitious project will never see the light of day.

Twenty years later and after a trip of three years in Asia, the Images à la Sauvette project finally began to materialise. The French title has been thoroughly thought out with his brother-in-law and cinema historian Georges Sadoul and evokes the snatchers or street peddlers. Cartier‑Bresson attested that the meaning of this idiomatic expression, the street vendors ready to run at the first request for a license, is very akin to his way of capturing images. Tériade would then prompt the Cardinal de Retz quote, the epigraph to Henri Cartier‑Bresson’s introductory text: “There is nothing in this world which does not have its decisive moment”. The American publisher hesitated to use a translation of the original French title and opted for something punchier, The Decisive Moment.

Images à la Sauvette established itself as an extremely pioneering work by its wish to claim the images strength as the unique narrative form and the emphasis on the photographer’s text. It proposes a daring purity, allowing the 24 x 36 to spread out on its very large format pages. A model of its kind with the heliogravure printing by the best craftsmen of the era, the Draeger brothers, and the splendid Matisse cover has been called “a Bible for photographers” by Robert Capa. In Spring 1951, Cartier-Bresson explains, “While our prints are beautiful and perfectly composed (as they should be), they are not photographs for salons […] In the end, our final image is the printed one.” This affirmation definitely proclaims Images à la Sauvette as an artist’s book.

Yet paradoxically, the book confirms a turning point in the life of the photographer who has co-founded Magnum Photos a few years earlier, in 1947, and which has contributed to guarantee the photographers authorship. The choice to separated the image portfolio before and after 1947 certifies this shift to the documentary. The significant size of the Reportage chapter in his introduction, as well as the recurrence of the plural pronoun evoking the cooperative, demonstrate this important change. The book structure in two definite parts reveals the inherent duality in Cartier‑Bresson’s work. Images à la Sauvette brings to light the photographer’s vision, which we thought to be torn between a very intimate interpretation of the inner world and, since the creation of Magnum, a more observational approach of the external world. Cartier-Bresson was fully aware of this coexistence and advocated a balance: “there is a reciprocal reaction between both these worlds which in the long run form only one. It would be a most dangerous over-simplification to stress the importance of one at the cost of the other in that constant dialogue.”

The exhibition presents a selection of vintage prints as well as numerous archival documents to recount the history of this publication, until its facsimile reprint by Steidl Verlag, in 2014. This edition comes with an additional booklet containing an essay by Clément Chéroux.

Text from Fondation HCB

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Seville, Spain, 1933' from 'Images à la Sauvette' (Verve, 1952), p. 27-28

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Seville, Spain, 1933
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 27-28
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Tehuantepec, Mexique, 1934'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Tehuantepec, Mexique, 1934
MEXICO. State of Oaxaca. Tehuantepec. 1934

From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 34
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Boston, United States, 1947'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Boston, United States, 1947
USA. Massachusetts. Boston. 1947.

From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 59-60
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Truman Capote, New Orleans, United States, July 1946'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Truman Capote, New Orleans, United States, July 1946
USA. Louisiana. New Orleans. US writer, Truman Capote. 1947.

From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 68
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

 

The great Henri Cartier-Bresson perfectly captured this decisive moment of petulant ingenue, Truman Capote. This photo was taken almost a year before Truman would publish his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms to great acclaim – a beautifully written story which is also partly autobiographical. He is about 22 years of age in this photo.

The unlikely couple met when contracted by Fortune Magazine to embark on a road trip together to the Deep South. Capote remembers Cartier-Bresson as…“dancing along the pavement like an agitated dragonfly, three Leicas winging from straps around his neck, a fourth one hugged to his eye … clicking away with a joyous intensity, a religious absorption.” (Text by John Rendell)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'es derniers jours de Kuomintang, Shanghai, Chine, décembre 1948 - janvier 1949'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
es derniers jours de Kuomintang, Shanghai, Chine, décembre 1948 – janvier 1949
Last days of Kuomintang, Shanghai, China, December 1948 – January 1949
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 127-128
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

CHINA. Shanghai. December 1948-January 1949. As the value of the paper money sank, the Kuomintang decided to distribute 40 grams of gold per person. With the gold rush, in December, thousands came out and waited in line for hours. The police, equipped with the remnants of the armies of the International Concession, made only a gesture toward maintaining order. Ten people were crushed to death.

 

 

Extract from The Decisive Moment

I, like many another boy, burst into the world of photography with a Box Brownie, which I used for taking holiday snapshots. Even as a child, I had a passion for painting, which I  “did” on Thursdays and Sundays, the days when French school children don’t have to go to school. Gradually, I set myself to try to discover the various ways in which I could play with a camera. From the moment that I began to use the camera and to think about it, however, there was an end to holiday snaps and silly pictures of my friends. I became serious. I was on the scent of something, and I was busy smelling it out.

Then there were the movies. From some of the great films, I learned to look, and to see. “Mysteries of New York, with Pearl White; the great films of D. W. Griffith – “Broken Blossoms”; the first films of Stroheim – “Greed”, Eisenstein’s “Potemkin”; and Dreyer’s “Jeanne d’Arc” – there were some of the things that impressed me deeply. Later I met photographers who had some of Atget’s prints. These I considered remarkable and, accordingly, I bought myself a tripod, a black cloth and a polished walnut camera three by four inches. The camera was fitted with – instead of a shutter – a lens-cap, which one took off and then put on to make the exposure. This last detail, of course, confined my challenge to the static world. Other photographic subjects seemed to me to be too complicated, or else to be “amateur stuff.” And by this time I fancied that by disregarding them, I was dedicating myself to Art with a capital “A.” Next I took to developing this Art of mine in my washbasin. I found the business of being a photographic Jack-of-All-Trades quite entertaining. […]

I had just discovered the Leica. It became the extension of my eye, and I have never been separated from it since I found it. I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to “trap” life – we preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes. The idea of making a photographic reportage, that is to say, of telling a story in a sequence of pictures, was something which never entered my head at that time. I began to understand more about it later, as a result of looking at the work of my colleagues and at the illustrated magazines. In fact, it was only in the process of working for them that I eventually learned – bit by bit – how to make a reportage with a camera, how we make a picture-story.

I have travelled a good deal, though I don’t really know how to travel. I like to take my time about it, leaving between one country and the next an interval in which to digest what I’ve seen. Once I have arrived in a new country, I have an almost desire to settle down there, so as to live on proper terms with the country. I could never be a globe-trotter. […]

To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.

I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us which can mould us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between these two worlds – the one inside us and the one outside us. As the result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.

But this takes care only of the content of the picture. For me, content cannot be separated from form. By form, I mean a rigorous organization of the interplay of surfaces, lines, and values. It is in this organization alone that our conceptions and emotions become concrete and communicable. In photography, visual organization can stem only from a developed instinct.

Extract from the text by Henri Cartier-Bresson, in The Decisive Moment, Simon and Schuster, 1952.

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. '"Chez Gégène", Joinville-le-Pont, France, 1938'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
“Chez Gégène”, Joinville-le-Pont, France, 1938
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 16
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

FRANCE. The Val de Marne ‘departement’. Joinville-le-Pont, near Paris. 1938.
“A newly-wed bride and groom at an outdoor café on the Marne. The couple were here for the entire afternoon with a full wedding party which included uncles, aunts and small children of the family.”

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Henri Matisse and his model Micaela Avogadro, Vence, France, 1944'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Henri Matisse and his model Micaela Avogadro, Vence, France, 1944
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 69
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

FRANCE. Nice. Cimiez district. February 1944. French painter Henri Matisse, with his model Micaela Avogadro.

 

 

The Decisive Moment: Trap or acme?

“There is nothing in this world which does not have its decisive moment.” This phrase, which comes from the memoirs of Cardinal de Retz first published in 1717, appears as the epigraph to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s introductory text for his first major book of photographs, Images à la Sauvette. It was his publisher, Tériade, the creator of the legendary Verve collection, who suggested using the quotation in 1952. At the time, Cartier-Bresson had no idea how important it would become. In fact, the book’s co-publisher in the United States, Richard Simon, from Simon & Schuster, hesitated to use a translation of the original French title – although this would have been quite possible – and sought something more impactful. In the end, Cartier-Bresson accepted The Decisive Moment, which would thus be handwritten by Matisse at the bottom of the paper cut-out the artist had created for the cover.

And so it is why, since that time, the concept of the “decisive moment” has practically always been associated with the name of Henri Cartier-Bresson. The expression gained such a following that it became a kind of definition of the photographic act for certain photographers, and one which would absolutely have to be overthrown afterwards. In the 1980s, the concept of the ‘decisive moment’ was contrasted with that of the “slack time” (temps faible), as brilliantly developed by French critic Alain Bergala in his essay accompanying Raymond Depardon’s Correspondance New-Yorkaise.

The error, the misunderstanding concerning this ‘decisive moment’ attached to the name of Henri Cartier-Bresson is that it has become a kind of standard, as if there were only one right moment, the one where everything falls into place in a geometric way. Many photographers have gone astray by attempting to imitate that balance; what often gets lost is the impulsiveness of a desire, the personal anxiety in face of a moment to preserve. The “decisive moment” has imposed itself and somewhat distorted, or in any case simplified, the way Cartier-Bresson’s work is seen, like a tree hiding the forest.

In 1974, Cartier-Bresson would admit: “For me, the Leica is a sketchbook, a psychoanalyst’s couch, a machine gun, a big, hot kiss, an electromagnet, a memory, the mirror of memory.” There is no trace here of any supposed record of a reality, but rather, of memory (and thus the past), the psychoanalyst’s couch (to make the past re-emerge) and the mirror of memory (the image of the past). Clearly, this poetic accident does not lie within everyone’s reach but, through the camera, it presents itself to some, provided they are good at passing it on. And this is something which, according to Walker Evans, left no room for doubt in Cartier-Bresson’s case: “Cartier has always been a kind of spirit medium: poetry sometimes speaks through his camera.”

Wouldn’t the ‘decisive moment’ be rather an ‘art of poetic accident’, knowing how to capture it in order to avoid the eternally ‘lost moment’: a mirror of memory, a moment saved by the artifice of the film’s light-sensitive surface?”

Extract from “De l’errance de l’oeil au moment qui s’impose, quelques pistes pour mieux voir,” (From the wandering of the eye to the right moment, a few ways to see better) Agnès Sire, Revoir Henri Cartier-Bresson, Textuel, 2009

 

 Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Italy, 1933'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Italy, 1933
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 25-26
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

 Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Italy, 1933' (detail)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Italy, 1933 (detail)
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 25-26
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

 Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Italy, 1933' (detail)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Italy, 1933 (detail)
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 25-26
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Italy, 1933' (detail)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Italy, 1933 (detail)
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 25-26
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Spain and Spanish Morocco, 1933'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Spain and Spanish Morocco, 1933
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 29-30
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Spain and Spanish Morocco, 1933' (detail)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Spain and Spanish Morocco, 1933 (detail)
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 29-30
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Spain and Spanish Morocco, 1933' (detail)

 

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Spain and Spanish Morocco, 1933 (detail)
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 29-30
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Gandhi’s funeral, Delhi, India, 1948'

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Gandhi’s funeral, Delhi, India, 1948
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 99-100
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson. 'Gandhi’s funeral, Delhi, India, 1948' (detail)

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Gandhi’s funeral, Delhi, India, 1948 (detail)
From Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952), p. 99-100
© Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

 

 

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
2, impasse Lebouis, 75014 Paris

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

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson 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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