Posts Tagged ‘The Decisive Moment

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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23
Jan
13

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

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

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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 below (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.

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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.

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

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

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Alex Webb. 'Tehuantepec, Mexico' 1985

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Alex Webb
Tehuantepec, Mexico
1985
71 x 47 cm
Digital Type C print
© Alex Webb

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

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Andy Freeberg 
Sean Kelly, Art Basel Miami
2010
Artist: Kehinde Wiley
63 x 43 cm
Pigment ink print
© Andy Freeberg
Courtesy Kopeikin Gallery

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

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Carolyn Drake
New Kashgar. Kashgar, China  
2011
30.48 x 20.32 cm
Digital Light Jet print
©Carolyn Drake 2012

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Ernst Haas. 'New Orleans, USA' 1960

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Ernst Haas
New Orleans, USA,
1960
Chromogenic archival print
50 x 35 cm
©Ernst Haas Estate, New York

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

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Helen Levitt
Cat next to red car, New York,
1973
Type C prints
18 x 12 inches
© Estate of Helen Levitt

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

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Jeff Mermelstein
Untitled (Package Pile Up, New York City)
1995
Chromogenic print
©Jeff Mermelstein
Courtesy Rick Wester Fine Art, New York

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“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

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

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

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Joel Meyerowitz. 'Madison Avenue, New York City 1975

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Joel Meyerowitz
Madison Avenue, New York City
1975
Archival Pigment Print
©Joel Meyerowitz 2012
Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC

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Karl Baden. 'Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts' 2009

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Karl Baden
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
2009
40.64 x 54.19 cm
Archival Inkjet
© Karl Baden

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

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Trent Parke
Man Vomiting, Gerald #1
2006
Type C print
© Trent Parke
Courtesy Magnum Photos

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

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

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

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Melanie Einzig
September 11th, New York 2001
2001
21 x 33cm
Inkjet print
© Melanie Einzig 2012

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

Opening hours:
10am – 6pm daily

Somerset House website

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17
Aug
12

Exhibition: ‘Before Color: William Eggleston’ at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam

Exhibition dates: 16th June – 26th August 2012

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“As these rediscovered prints reveal, the man who made colour photography into an artform worked brilliantly in monochrome – and his eye for unsettling detail is every bit as sharp”

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Sean O’Hagan

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These are magnificent, intelligent photographs. They are works from the master that show that Eggleston found his own style early on. His understanding of the “quietness” of space and form within the picture plane is already fully developed and his aesthetic decision to use grainy, black and white high speed film just adds to the stillness and eeriness of the photographs. His signature style, his unique messianic voice, really shines through in these recently discovered images which could be seen to be BC – before the beginning of colour (photography) as eulogised by the museum establishment.

Highlights in these photographs include:

  • The pose of the women caught mid-stride, about to put the telephone back in its cradle
  • The man and the woman frozen mid-conversation in a minimal hotel lobby(?) with the shroud of a dark man on the plaque behind
  • The barren hotel room with old air conditioner, vinyl chair, floral bedspread and newspapers strewn over the floor (remeniscent of the spaces of so many of his later colour photographs)
  • And my favourite, Untitled (1960, below), the bulk of the heavy car looming out of the murk at the bottom of the picture frame, the intransigent windscreen wipers, the rain and the blurred traffic moving behind. You can almost touch and taste the atmosphere of this moment, in this day, of that year…

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The wondrous thing is that Eggleston’s voice transfers beautifully through into the saturation of his later colour dye-transfer prints. His pared down vision of life and world become unmistakably his own in the colour photographs. Unlike the Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama, whose panache in his black and white photographs is matched only by the shallowness of his colour work, here Eggleston lays the ground work for the rest of his monumental career.

Great to see these early photographs. I’m so glad they found them!

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

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Vegard Kleven, Oslo

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1966
Private collection, Oslo. Courtesy Peder Lund
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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“The American photographer William Eggleston (1939) is known as one of the first major pioneers of artistic colour photography. His book William Eggleston’s Guide was one of the most influential photography books of the 20th century and still inspires many today. Eggleston’s black-and-white photographs are less well-known. In Before Color, the Nederlands Fotomuseum highlights this famous photographer’s earliest work, which was only recently discovered. The photographs show that Eggleston found his own style early on. Inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eggleston used a 35mm camera and fast black-and-white film to photograph the American way of life in the early 1960s. We see his own surroundings: suburban Memphis, with its diners, car parks and supermarkets, as well as the houses and domestic interiors of the people who lived there. Before Color by William Eggleston will be on display from 16 June until 26 August.

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Black-and-white snapshots

When Eggleston started taking photographs in the early 1960s, he was particularly inspired by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson and his book The Decisive Moment from 1952. Contrary to the big names in American photography at the time – who were preoccupied with the stunning landscape, like Ansel Adams – Cartier-Bresson took snapshots of everyday life. Eggleston found this approach very appealing. Using a 35mm camera and fast black-and-white film he began photographing his own surroundings. These were predominantly shaped by suburban Memphis, with its diners, car parks and supermarkets, but he also focused on the houses and domestic interiors of the people who lived there.

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Breaking a tradition

At the same time Eggleston experimented with colour photography. Together with Joel Meyerowitz, Joel Sternfeld and others, he broke the long tradition of black-and-white photography by working in colour and focusing on subjects from daily life. In 1972 he completed an extensive series of 2,200 photographs entitled Los Alamos, which provided a unique picture of life in America in the ’60s and early ’70s. He discovered the deep and saturated colours of the so-called dye-transfer printing technique, originally a commercial application that he perfected and that would become his international trademark. His first solo exhibition in 1976 was also the first exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art devoted to colour photography. The exhibition was accompanied by what would become the acclaimed and influential book William Eggleston’s Guide.

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Before color

Eggleston would later abandon black-and-white film altogether and his earliest work was forgotten. So it was a surprise when a box of his black-and-white photographs was recently found in the archives of the William Eggleston Artistic Trust in Memphis. The photographs were exhibited for the first time in 2010 at the Cheim & Read Gallery in New York and published in the book Before Color (Steidl, 2010).

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Before Color
exhibition

This is the first time that Before Color has been exhibited in the Netherlands and includes nearly 40 photographs from William Eggleston’s early career. The images show that Eggleston found his personal style and photographic motifs early on and provide a wonderful picture of the American way.”

Press release from the Nederlands Fotomuseum website

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
Nd
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
Nd
Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York and Peder Lund, Oslo
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Private collection, Oslo. Courtesy Peder Lund
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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William Eggleston
Untitled
1960
Private collection, Oslo. Courtesy Peder Lund
Eggleston Artistic Trust, Photo Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York

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Nederlands Fotomuseum
Wilhelminakade 332
3072 AR Rotterdam
The Netherlands

Opening hours
Tuesday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 11 am -5 pm
Free entrance on Wednesday

Nederlands Fotomuseum website

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04
Jan
09

‘William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Exhibition dates: November 7th 2008 – January 25th 2009

 

“One of the most influential photographers of the last half-century, William Eggleston has defined the history of color photography. This exhibition is the artist’s first retrospective in the United States and includes both his color and black-and-white photographs as well as Stranded in Canton, the artist’s video work from the early 1970s.

William Eggleston’s great achievement in photography can be described in a straightforward way: he captures everyday moments and transforms them into indelible images. William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008 presents a comprehensive selection from nearly fifty years of image-making.

Born in 1939 in Sumner, Mississippi, a small town in the Delta region, Eggleston showed an early interest in cameras and audio technology. While studying at various colleges in the South, he purchased his first camera and came across a copy of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s book The Decisive Moment (1952). In the early 1960s, Eggleston married and moved to Memphis, where he has lived ever since. He first worked in black-and-white, but by the end of the decade began photographing primarily in color. Internationally acclaimed and widely traveled, Eggleston has spent the past four decades photographing all around the world, conveying intuitive responses to fleeting configurations of cultural signs and moods as specific expressions of local color. Psychologically complex and casually refined, bordering on kitsch and never conventionally beautiful, these photographs speak principally to the expanse of Eggleston’s imagination and have had a pervasive influence on all aspects of visual culture. By not censoring, rarely editing, and always photographing, Eggleston convinces us of the idea of the democratic camera.”

Text from the Whitney Museum of American Art website

 

 

William Eggleston. 'Untitled' c.1971-73

 

William Eggleston
Untitled
c.1971 – 1973
from “Troubled Waters” 1980

 

“One of the most influential photographers of the last half-century, William Eggleston has defined the history of color photography. This exhibition is the artist’s first retrospective in the United States and includes both his color and black-and-white photographs as well as Stranded in Canton, the artist’s video work from the early 1970s.”

 

William Eggleston (American, born 1939) 'Untitled (Greenwood, Mississippi)' 1980

 

William Eggleston (American, born 1939)
Untitled (Greenwood, Mississippi)
1980
Dye-transfer print
29.6 x 45.5 cm (11 5/8 x 17 15/16 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Purchase, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and Jennifer and Philip Maritz Gift, 2012
© Eggleston Artistic Trust

 

Link to William Eggleston video

 

 

Link to William Eggleston video

“This candid interview with photographer William Eggleston was conducted by film director Michael Almereyda on the occasion of the opening of Eggleston’s retrospective ‘William Eggleston: Democratic Camera, Photographs and Video, 1961-2008’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art. A key figure in American photography, Eggleston is credited almost single-handedly with ushering in the era of color photography. Eggleston discusses his shift from black and white to color photography in this video as, “it never was a conscious thing. I had wanted to see a lot of things in color because the world is in color”. Also included in this video are Eggleston’s remarks about his personal relationships with the subjects of many of his photographs.”

 

William Eggleston. "Untitled" nd from "Los Alamos" 1965 - 68 and 1972 - 74 (published 2003)

 

William Eggleston
Untitled
Nd
from “Los Alamos” 1965 – 68 and 1972 – 74 (published 2003)

 

 

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
New York, NY 10014
Phone: (212) 570-3600

Opening hours:
Mondays: 10.30 am – 6 pm
Tuesdays: Closed
Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays: 10.30 am – 6 pm
Friday and Saturdays: 10.30 am – 10 pm

Whitney Museum of American Art website

William Eggleston exhibition web page

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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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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