Monday, 12 May 2014

Henri Cartier-Bresson on display

 The Pompidou Centre in Paris is holding a major exhibition of the works of famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Having limited knowledge of both place and person I decided to investigate.

Bresson is considered the father of photo-journalism. He took an interest in street photography, travelled the world recording important events and indulged himself at times in socialist/communist ideas. Some of his photos might look candid but they are actually staged, early days of spin-doctoring.

He came from a very wealthy background and never struggled in his life, doing exactly what he liked to do. He tried to be in the right place at the right time. One of his techniques was to find an interesting spot, set up his camera and just wait for something to happen. Another technique was to look at the geometry of the scene in front of his lens. This is quite evident in some of his photos. It's nothing new these days.

His fuzzy early photos left me uninspired. Some of his photos are good and probably trend-setters but over-all I went away thinking he was a guy lucky in life who found a talent he could indulge in and thus benefited from it. Some of his photos I found artistically pretentious, especially the contrived ones. You can't tell what's 'fabricated' unless you know the story behind them. Of course, this sort of photography isn't new, it happens all the time but when you consider the length of his career and the hundreds of thousands of photos he would have taken, the really worthwhile ones are, in my opinion, rather sparse.

He didn't bother to do the developing of his photos himself, he paid others to do it. In the 1930s he became interested in film-making and worked alongside Jean Renoir. He was also keen on drawing and painting. Again, I wasn't impressed with his efforts here either... call me a philistine if you must.
When colour film arrived he steadfastly refused to use it unless absolutely necessary. He stuck to black and white. This made me realise that if his photos had all been in colour they would have been less interesting.

He did only a few portraits, including those of Picasso, Matisse and Colette. He gave up photography in the 1970s and concentrated on drawing. He died in 2004 aged 95.

I was disappointed (as is often the case at French expositions) by the careless English spelling and grammar evident on the exhibition display panels. This is a worldwide and expensive exhibition. Wouldn't you think someone would spell check, especially since it was obviously written by a francophone? 

As for the Pompidou Centre itself, it was a disappointment. Maybe it was expensively and architecturally trendy when built but I couldn't miss the rust everywhere, the filthy windows and tunnels. Everything was worn-out industrial and inside the cavernous reception, more like an old factory. The photos of Montmartre are the best I could do through the dirty plexiglass tunnels. The views are great but if only one could access the roof.


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