The Extraordinary Life and Art of Henri Cartier-Bresson Revealed in 1998 Documentary

The cam­era, Hen­ri Carti­er-Bres­son once said, is an instru­ment of intu­ition and spon­tane­ity — “the mas­ter of the instant which, in visu­al terms, ques­tions and decides simul­ta­ne­ous­ly.” Like a Zen archer, Carti­er-Bres­son viewed his méti­er as a way of being in the world. Pho­tog­ra­phy for him was an “art­less art,” best approached by for­get­ting tech­nique and open­ing one­self to the uncon­scious. “To take pho­tographs,” he said, “means to recognize–simultaneously and with­in a frac­tion of a second–both the fact itself and the rig­or­ous orga­ni­za­tion of visu­al­ly per­ceived forms that give it mean­ing. It is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same axis.”

Hen­ri Carti­er-Bres­son: Pen, Brush and Cam­era (above) is an excel­lent overview of the great pho­tog­ra­pher’s life and work. Direct­ed and nar­rat­ed by Patri­cia Wheat­ley, the film was pro­duced for the BBC in 1998, the year four major exhi­bi­tions were held in Lon­don to cel­e­brate Carti­er-Bres­son’s 90th birth­day. The film traces the pho­tog­ra­pher’s extra­or­di­nary life, from his ear­ly train­ing as a painter and his infat­u­a­tion with Sur­re­al­ism to his lat­er work as a globe-trot­ting pho­to­jour­nal­ist and his deci­sion, after 40 years of work in the medi­um, to give up pho­tog­ra­phy and ded­i­cate the last decades of his life to draw­ing. The film includes rare footage of Carti­er-Bres­son at work, along with inter­views by Mag­num pho­tog­ra­ph­er Eve Arnold and oth­ers. Best of all, Wheat­ley was able to film exten­sive inter­views with the noto­ri­ous­ly shy pho­tog­ra­ph­er, both in Lon­don and in his apart­ment over­look­ing the Tui­leries Gar­dens in Paris.

To learn more about Carti­er-Bres­son and to see a won­der­ful slide show of his pho­tog­ra­phy nar­rat­ed by the man him­self, please see our ear­li­er piece, “Hen­ri Carti­er Bres­son and the Deci­sive Moment.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Cre­ative Process of Ansel Adams Revealed in 1958 Doc­u­men­tary

Dis­cov­er Ansel Adams’ 226 Pho­tos of U.S. Nation­al Parks (and Anoth­er Side of the Leg­endary Pho­tog­ra­ph­er)

Alfred Stieglitz: The Elo­quent Eye, a Reveal­ing Look at “The Father of Mod­ern Pho­tog­ra­phy”

1972 Diane Arbus Doc­u­men­tary Inter­views Those Who Knew the Amer­i­can Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Best

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