Henri Cartier-Bresson planned to be a painter, just like his Uncle Louis. He first saw his uncle’s studio when he was five and for many years dreamed of having one just like it.
But young Henri – born this date in 1908 – also had a Brownie camera and that was equally exciting. The Brownie was succeeded by a view camera and photography began to consume quite a lot of his time.
Still, he pursued his dream of being a painter, attending art school in Paris. The next few years were a rush of intellectual and artistic adventures, followed by two years in England, compulsory military service and a trip to Africa, which nearly killed him. He caught blackwater fever and returned to France to recuperate. He was 24.
At some point while he was recovering in Marseille, he encountered the work of Martin Munkasci, a Hungarian emigré whose photographs caught humans in mid-flight as it were – jumping, dancing, leaping and so on. Cartier-Bresson said what ‘ brought me to photography was the work of Munkacsi…I took my camera and went into the street.’
He gave up painting and took to photography full time. “I suddenly understood that a photograph could fix eternity in an instant.”
Often that instant was what he called the decisive moment. Much has been made of Cartier-Bresson’s ‘moment décisif,’ and after seeing that moment repeated endlessly in collections, it becomes more than a little tedious – kind of like an O. Henry ending. But taken in small doses, Cartier-Bresson usually does find the right moment. You can learn more here.
Below, a Martin Munkasci.