A moment in time can be so telling, especially when it comes to the human condition and it's effects. Henri Cartier-Bresson's most recent exhibition is now at MoMA through June 28th, 2010. Entitled Henri Cartier-Brasson: The Modern Century, the exhibit brings early works up to around the 70's and ranges from exotic locations to more familiar territory and some stunning portraiture. Mr. Cartier-Brasson (1908-2004) has been credited as being one of the most influential photographers of modern photography with an incredible ability to capture a split second, telling moment (especially post hand-held camera came to fruition). He was one of the photographers that founded Magnum photo agency. Formed so photojournalists could keep a certain level of control over their images while reaching a wider range of audience.
Photojournalism and documentary film have their parallels and this MoMA gathering of over 300 photographs is an experience for anyone who is captivated by the idea of capturing life and time, in particular a moment that provides an entire story - if you're paying attention. From composition, including layers and juxtaposition of texture and motion to the human experience, Henri Cartier-Brasson had an amazing talent for finding that instant that brings a viewer into the image completely. It's an emotional experience whether or not you understand the politics behind many of the images or the personality behind the portrait, because they are so much about what it is to be human. Even in a landscape photograph (as MoMA's free audio guide points out), what's reflected is man's effect on that landscape, not just a pretty picture.
The photos are gorgeous and MoMA did an interesting job by comparing the originally framed images with the cropped images that sometimes ended up in magazine publications. The magazine versions were sometimes less revealing or dramatic with when altered from the photographer's original framing. The comparison reminded me of seeing the difference between full frame and letterbox. You just don't have the full story without being able to see the original intended shot.
His lesser known works of the western world were amazing as well and there is a smallish section on women that reflects an obvious loving infatuation with them.
Each selected image for this exhibition reminded me of viewing footage before beginning a project and taking notes on where the possible good finds are located at. With documentary filmmaking and editing, reviewing footage is about discovering the handful of jewels that glue the composition together to make the whole, what Henri Cartier-Brasson would refer to as "the decisive moment".