Henri Cartier-Bresson stands with his camera during the 1968 Paris riots. Photo by Alain Nogues/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images.
Henri Cartier-Bresson viewed a powerful still image as the hairsbreadth of an instant. To his mind, a photographer had a fleeting moment when all the moving parts aligned, revealing something honest and true about the world—the photographer just had to know exactly when to fire the shutter. A strong composition wasn’t merely a product of serendipity, though: Cartier-Bresson often chose a setting and waited for the right elements to take shape in front of his lens.
Cartier-Bresson called the split second of action “the decisive moment” and titled his famed 1952 photo book with that phrase. His approach has become ubiquitous in the field of photography, and Cartier-Bresson remains one of its most famous figures. Yet he came to photography by chance, initially training as a painter under Cubist artist André Lhote.
In the early 1930s, Cartier-Bresson encountered Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika (1929) by Martin Munkácsi: an image of three young children, nearly silhouetted, running into the crashing waves. “It is that very photograph which was for me the spark that set fire to the fireworks and made me suddenly realize that photography could reach eternity through the moment,” he once recalled.
In subsequent decades, Cartier-Bresson became a war documentary filmmaker, an accomplished photographer for magazines including Life, and a co-founder of the influential picture agency Magnum Photos. Toward the end of his career, Cartier-Bressor cut ties with Magnum to return to drawing and painting. “Photography is an immediate reaction, drawing is a meditation,” he once described of his dual practices……………………