Henri Cartier-Bresson: 70 Year Retrospective

Through more than five hundred photographs, drawings, paintings, films and documents, the Centre Pompidou is devoting a completely new retrospective to the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson.

The exhibition reveals his work far beyond the “decisive moment” that long sufficed to sum up his genius for composition and skill in capturing movement. Ten years after his death, the thousands of prints he left to posterity have been brought together by the foundation that bears his name. By re-examining this enormous catalogue of work, the exhibition presents a genuine reinterpretation of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work. The public is invited to journey through over seventy years of work that established the photographer as a key figure in modernity.

The Centre Pompidou retrospective illustrates the depth and variety of his work and his wide-ranging career as a photographer — one that covered Surrealism, the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, decolonization and the Cold War. Besides featuring the photographer’s iconic pictures, the show reassesses a number of little-known photo reports, brings to light collections of paintings and drawings, and focuses on Cartier-Bresson’s forays into the world of film (getting his start as an assistant to the great French director Jean Renoir ) .

Both chronological and thematic, the circuit is structured around three main viewpoints: the period between 1926 and 1935, marked by his contact with the Surrealists, his early work as a photographer and his travels all over the world. A second section devoted to Cartier-Bresson’s political commitment when he returned from the US in 1936 until he set off for New York again in 1946. And a third sequence opening with the creation of Magnum Photos in 1947 and finishing with the early Seventies, when Cartier-Bresson stopped doing photo reports.

Since the photographer's death, a rash of Cartier-Bresson retrospectives have eagerly packaged together the photographer's most well-known photographs, trying to justify his "Eye of the Century" title. While he was an excellent photo-journalist and did, indeed, witness some of the great events of the 20th century, the moniker is both too grand and too simple. Cartier-Bresson helped define a genre of photography but was also shaped by countless influences around him. Veteran photography-lovers might feel like they already know Cartier-Bresson but only because they've grown tired of hearing the ceaseless praise of the "decisive moment". This exhibition does not fall into that trap. Instead, it surprises, educates, and allows us to see this master in a refreshingly new light making this exhibition equally worthwhile for the well-versed and newly initiated alike. 

—Alexander Strecker


Editor's Note: The exhibition will run from February 12 to June 9, 2014 at the Centre Pompidou  in Paris.