Henri Cartier-Bresson’s scrapbook
A major photographic exhibition is coming to the North. Representing the first half of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s career (which spans from 1932 to 1946), a photographic material which was carefully selected, printed and mounted to a scrapbook by himself after the World War II, will be shown in the National Media Museum in Bradford from 7th of March to 1st of June 2008.
As the museum’s website reports, “these photographs documented both his extensive travels and his encounters with Surrealism and modern art. They were conceived as an initial selection for a major exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a show that would catapult Cartier-Bresson onto the world stage and bring him international recognition. All the original photographs have now been brought together for a new exhibition, showing for the first time in the UK.” (photo left: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Mexico, 1934)
The story about the scrapbook’s making entails few very interesting twists. During World War II, and following Cartier-Bresson’s capture by the Nazis, the curators of the Museum of Modern Art were making arrangements for a posthumous exhibition of his work. But Henri, after three years in prison camps and two unsuccessful attempts, he managed to escape in 1943 and then survived in hiding. Few years later, he found out with pleasure about the MoMA plans and decided to collaborate and curate the exhibition himself, bringing 300 self-made prints glued in a scrapbook to New York!
Cartier-Bresson began photographing the world in 1930, first with a brownie box camera and then, two years later, with his trademark Leica. His photos from expeditions in several countries were published in major journals and he had his first exhibition in Madrid in 1933.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Madrid 1933
Cartier-Bresson was also drawn to the cinema and worked as an assistant director in Jean Renoir’s film ‘The Rules of the Game’ (1939). He also became interested in documenting the Spanish Civil War. At the outbreak of World War II, he was drafted into the French army where he was a corporal in a film and photo unit captured in the Vosges Mountains in June 1940.
The MoMA exhibition, celebrating his survival, opened on February 4, 1947. (Note that the same year he also joined Robert Capa and David Seymour in founding Magnum).The collection includes portraits, such as of Matisse, Picasso and others, as well as street photography, assigned photo essays and reportage of France’s war years.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gestapo Informer, Dessau, Germany, 1945.
The ‘Scrapbook’ has been published in its entirety for first time last year by Thames & Hudson. Cartier-Bresson turned his attention to it in the 1990s again, realising its great importance – especially since the selection of the photos was his own choice. In fact, he rediscovered it in a suitcase in his parents’ house after his mother died. But he was not really ‘a man living in the past’ – as described in the interview below – and left it in the bookshelf. Following his death in 2004, the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, the present owner of the prints, finished the job of restoring the photographs, and made their wider publication available.
Llisten here to Martine Franck and Agnès Sire of Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson talking about the history of the Scrapbook. This is an interview hosted in the website of the International Centre of Photography, New York, where the Scrapbook was exhibited last year.