Essays

A Message from Cartier-Bresson

By The ASX Team on May 28, 2012

He brought out hundreds of his photographs, some in copies, others in books and still others in originals. He placed the pictures on the table, one at a time, and ordered me to make an instant decision whether I would take it or not.

A Message from Cartier-Bresson

By Yoshitomo Kajikawa

It was autumn, 1996 that I received a letter from Henri Cartier-Bresson urging me to visit Paris. January 13, 1997 – the day I paid my first visit to Cartier-Bresson – proved to be freezingly cold. The great photo-artist’s studio was located on the fifth and the highest floor of the apartment house where Cezanne and Monet once lived on the third and fourth floor, respectively. I now fondly recall how tense I was when I got in the manually-operated elevator I suspect is the oldest in the entire Paris.

I commuted to Cartier-Bresson’s studio for three days running to make a selection of his works for the exhibition at our museum. He brought out hundreds of his photographs, some in copies, others in books and still others in originals. He placed the pictures on the table, one at a time, and ordered me to make an instant decision whether I would take it or not. Breaking into a terrible cold sweat, I finally selected 120 pictures. There was complete change in his facial expression between the time before and after I had made five to six selections. When the entire selection process came to a close, Cartier-Bresson was gracious enough to comment that the group of pictures I had chosen was the one that satisfied him most in the world.

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Children Playing in the Ruins, Seville, 1933

Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia, 1960

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 Valencia, Spain, 1933

When the entire selection process came to a close, Cartier-Bresson was gracious enough to comment that the group of pictures I had chosen was the one that satisfied him most in the world.

Cartier-Bresson traveled widely throughout the world – Mexico, Spain, the United States, India, Russia, China, Japan… He kept on capturing “decisive moments” in world history, including Gandhi’s funeral, liberation of Russia, the eve of the Spanish Civil War and myriad others. I believe he said he had “smelled” something before he stumbled upon such moments. In the period when Cartier-Bresson was an active photographer, each and every city in the world had a peculiar “smell” of its own, and all the peoples of the world had at least something in common. He may very well have tried to capture such “smells” and “something”. He definitely found his camera to be highly effective. Undoubtedly, there once were areas where cameras alone were potent as tools of expression.

Cartier-Bresson has photographed “the times”. In other words, he has photographed people. Ought we not to perceive his abandonment of photography as an expression of his criticism against the present time – a declaration that only in the times and the people can we find the subjects of photography? As long as we can take pictures with a simple push of our forefinger, I for one cannot but believe that there ought to be certain qualifications for those who take photographs.

(Translated by Atsuo Tsuruoka)

(All rights reserved. Text @ Yoshitomo Kajikawa, Images @ Henri Cartier-Besson Foundation)