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Henri Cartier-Bresson : A look back

Henri-Cartier-Bresson

An insight into his life

Henri Cartier-Bresson was bought up in a bourgeois family as the eldest of five siblings in the region of Île de France. Despite the efforts of his parents to direct him into a traditional career, he found himself inevitably attracted to modern art. He attended the Lhote academy- a Parisian studio of the Cubist painter and sculptor André Lhote- and Cambridge University where he studied English, art and literature.

An eager traveler 

As a daring and courageous person, he was also a keen traveler: Berlin, Brussels, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Madrid, India, China, Turkey, Israel… the world was his oyster.

During some time spent in Côte d´Ivoire, Africa, it was a photograph taken in 1930 by Hungarian photojournalist Martin Munkacsi of three boys running freely into the sea that triggered his change of mind set.

The only thing which completely was an amazement to me and brought me to photography was the work of Munkacsi. When I saw the photograph of Munkacsi of the black kids running in a wave I couldn't believe such a thing could be caught with the camera. I said damn it, I took my camera and went out into the street."

World War II

Living during the birth of what was later to be known as “photojournalism” during the 1920´s, Cartier-Bresson was witness to many moments that showed the triumph of humanity. However, the Second World War saw how in 1939, as a Corporal in the Film and Photo Unit in the French army, he was captured by the Germans and forced to carry out hard manual labour. He tried to escape twice and was caught – inciting a punishment of solitary confinement. Nonetheless, after 35 months in the camp, he was third time lucky and managed to break out of the confines. Once on French soil, he helped others to escape and worked with photographers to cover the occupation and liberation of France. 

A final anecdote 

It is said that Henri Cartier- Bresson like many, detested being photographed. When, in 1975, he was offered an honory degree from Oxford University, he held a paper in front of his face to avoid being photographed. 

Henri Cartier-Bresson died aged 95 in the south of France.

Article Written by Michelle de la Rosa Lewis (Student at Studio M Academy)