Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Henri Cartier-Bresson: All-Knowing

Dan Leers ('02) talks with LU students about the HCB exhibition @ AIC 10.2.10
Dan Leers (LU '02) spent the last couple years examining the journals and papers of photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004), archived by the Fondation Henri-Cartier Bresson in Paris. As Beaumont and Nancy Newhall Curatorial Fellow at the Museum of Modern Art, Dan tracked on HCB's movement through the space-time continuum as a way to shed light on the photographer's prescient dedication to global travel and to help viewers put HCB's photographs into context. Dan's research became an integral part of the Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century exhibition and catalog. The show organized by MoMa travelled to the Art Institute of Chicago (closed 10.3.2010) then will go on to San Francisco and Atlanta. Giant maps and color lines at the entrance of the exhibition denote Cartier-Bresson's photographic journey over the course of 50 years, a data visualization helping viewers to contemplate HCB's photographic trajectory.  

HCB managed to be in the right place at the right time with his basic 35mm camera and black-and-white film.  Always watching and seeing the minutia that reveals the complexity of a specific moment. From the assassination of Ghandi in India to the early information age in America, his wife, Martine Franck, pointed out in an NPR interview in 2003 that "...Henri had an innate intuition of what was going on in the world and what was important."  Long before jet travel, HCB travelled by boat, train and motorcycle. HCB's mythology  looms large in the photography canon from the branding of the "Decisive Moment" to the legendary formation of Magnum, The exhibition partly knocks HCB off his pedestal, according to Leers, by giving viewers a new perspective on the photographer's body of work. We see HCB's obsession with living and looking. We see that long before art museums showed photographs and photography galleries were as commonplace as the Internet, picture magazines where the best way to circulate pictures and that's exactly what HCB did. Through Magnum, he contributed both color and black-and-white photographs to a range of magazines from Sports Illustrated to Life to Paris Match. The exhibition provides a hint of the sheer volume of his output as professional photo-journalist and artist. Eventually giving up photography for drawing, HCB practiced the "journey-form" tas defined by Nicolas Bourriaud in his Alternmodern Manifesto. He did so long before it was as easy as jumping on a jet plane to your latest artist residency. Writes Bourriaud in 2009: "The form of the work expresses a course, a wander, rather than a fixed space-time...Our universe becomes a territory all dimensions of which may be travelled both in space and time." HCB criss-crossed continents to see a changing modern world throughout the 20th century while pining for the traditional old world past and living long enough to catch a vision of the last of the pre-FaceBook 21st century. 
Henri Cartier-Bresson, McCann-Erickson Agency,
Madison Avenue, New York, 1959

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