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.”

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