Henri Cartier-Bresson The Rhythm of Real Things

Henri Cartier-Bresson The Rhythm of Real Things

LiveAuctionTalk.com:  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Christie's.

French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson portrayed on film the exact second when his subjects revealed themselves in their most instinctive ways.  It was like he had a stop watch to reality freezing the moment and backgrounds he most wanted to capture. 

You have to be yourself and you have to forget yourself in order to discover the exact instant and position from which the photographer might be able to extract a moment of meaning from ongoing existence.
— Henri Cartier-Bresson

Hard to believe his photography was deliberate.  He took the ordinary stuff we might skip in a shot and used it--like the Coronation parade of George VI in 1938 in England.  He focused on the spectators not the ceremony.

He called it a rhythm in the world of real things.  It’s that rhythm he searched for when he snapped a photo of children playing in ruins, people picnicking on the banks of the Marne or the turban headed artist Henri Matisse clutching a white dove on a roof.

Henri was art photographer as well as a photojournalist.  Commissions from Harper’s Bazaar and Vu magazine in 1932 gave him his start as a photojournalist. 

For Henri it wasn’t only the subject it was the treatment of the subject that really mattered in photography.  He searched for a “decisive moment.”  

It was that moment in a fraction of a second when his head, body and heart came together to capture not only the subject but the objects around it--that fused it with powerful expression.

When he exhibited his work for the first time at the Julien Levy Gallery in midtown Manhattan in 1933 people were scratching their heads.  They figured the humor and mystery they were witnessing in his photos happened automatically, an accident.  It was hard to believe they were deliberate.    

Henri’s style was no accident.

The miniature camera he used was portable.  It was ready and waiting when he needed it.  It became an extension of his eye which allowed him to get those peak moments on film.

“You have to be yourself and you have to forget yourself in order to discover the exact instant and position from which the photographer might be able to extract a moment of meaning from ongoing existence,” he said.  

He had a gift for bringing form and structure to the moment.

In 1946 there was a retrospective exhibition of Henri’s still photographs at the Museum of Modern Art.  He also traveled to Europe, Asia and the Americas to work.  His work appeared in numerous magazine articles and more than a dozen books.    

“Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes,” he said. 

One of Henri’s secrets was to take his time and hope the subject forgot about him.  He was a master of capturing fleeting reality. 

He understood he lived in a world of vanishing things.  He was about getting it all in the shot knowing the moment would soon be gone.

On Dec. 13, Christie’s, New York featured a selection of Henri’s photos in its Photographs auction.

Here are some current values.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Mexico; gelatin silver print; signed in ink; 1964; printed in 1970s; 9 ½ inches by 14 ¼ inches;  $7,500.

Ireland; gelatin silver print; signed in ink and blindstamp; 1963; printed in 1980s; 14 inches by 9 3/8 inches;  $8,125.

Avenue du Maine, Paris; gelatin silver print; signed in ink and blindstamp; 1932; printed in 1970s; 9 ½ inches by 14 1/8 inches;  $8,750.

Seville; gelatin silver print; signed in ink; 1933; printed in 1970s; 9 ½ inches by 14 ¼ inches;  $8,750.

Behind the Gare St. Lazare; gelatin silver print; signed in ink and copyright blindstamp; 1932; printed later; 17 5/8 inches by 11 7/8 inches;  $10,000.          

Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her LiveAuctionTalk.com website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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