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Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Henri Cartier-Bresson (French: [kaʁtje bʁɛsɔ̃]; August 22, 1908 – August 3, 2004) was a French humanist photographer considered a master of candid photography, and an early user of 35 mm film. He pioneered the genre of street photography, and viewed photography as capturing a decisive moment. His work has influenced many photographers.

Henri Cartier-Bresson was born in Chanteloup-en-Brie, Seine-et-Marne, France, the oldest of five children. His father was a wealthy textile manufacturer, whose Cartier-Bresson thread was a staple of French sewing kits. His mother's family were cotton merchants and landowners from Normandy, where Henri spent part of his childhood. The Cartier-Bresson family lived in a bourgeois neighborhood in Paris, Rue de Lisbonne, near Place de l'Europe and Parc Monceau. His parents supported him financially so Henri could pursue photography more freely than his contemporaries. Henri also sketched.

Young Henri took holiday snapshots with a Box Brownie; he later experimented with a 3×4 inch view camera. He was raised in traditional French bourgeois fashion, and was required to address his parents with formal vous rather than tu. His father assumed that his son would take up the family business, but Henri was strong-willed and also feared this prospect.

Cartier-Bresson attended École Fénelon, a Catholic school that prepared students for the Lycée Condorcet. A governess called "Miss Kitty" who came from across the Channel, instilled in him the love of - and competence in - the English language. The proctor caught him reading a book by Rimbaud or Mallarmé, and reprimanded him, "Let's have no disorder in your studies!". Cartier-Bresson said, "He used the informal 'tu', which usually meant you were about to get a good thrashing. But he went on, 'You're going to read in my office.' Well, that wasn't an offer he had to repeat."

After trying to learn music, Cartier-Bresson was introduced to oil painting by his uncle Louis, a gifted painter. But the painting lessons were cut short when uncle Louis was killed in World War I.

In 1927 Cartier-Bresson entered a private art school and the Lhote Academy, the Parisian studio of the Cubist painter and sculptor André Lhote. Lhote's ambition was to integrate the Cubists' approach to reality with classical artistic forms; he wanted to link the French classical tradition of Nicolas Poussin and Jacques-Louis David to Modernism. Cartier-Bresson also studied painting with society portraitist Jacques Émile Blanche. During this period, he read Dostoevsky, Schopenhauer, Rimbaud, Nietzsche, Mallarmé, Freud, Proust, Joyce, Hegel, Engels and Marx. Lhote took his pupils to the Louvre to study classical artists and to Paris galleries to study contemporary art. Cartier-Bresson's interest in modern art was combined with an admiration for the works of the Renaissance masters: Jan van Eyck, Paolo Uccello, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca. Cartier-Bresson regarded Lhote as his teacher of "photography without a camera."

Although Cartier-Bresson became frustrated with Lhote's "rule-laden" approach to art, the rigorous theoretical training later helped him identify and resolve problems of artistic form and composition in photography. In the 1920s, schools of photographic realism were popping up throughout Europe but each had a different view on the direction photography should take. The Surrealist movement, founded in 1924, was a catalyst for this paradigm shift. Cartier-Bresson began socializing with the Surrealists at the Café Cyrano, in the Place Blanche. He met a number of the movement's leading protagonists, and was drawn to the Surrealist movement's technique of using the subconscious and the immediate to influence their work. The historian Peter Galassi explains:

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Henri Cartier-Bresson Artworks
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