Famed photographer takes his last pictureIn a quiet corner of Cheongdam-dong, at Gallery Lumiere, the curator Lee Eun-hyang stands before several black and white photographs by the celebrated photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. The exhibition, titled “The Decisive Moment,” opened on June 25 with the help of the French Embassy.
But it’s a quiet that was shattered Thursday morning when Lee read an e-mail about the death of Cartier-Bresson, and a quiet that she foresees will evaporate when more people realize that Bresson died at the age of 95 on Tuesday, lending a more immediate significance to his 13 works at Lumiere.
The exhibition runs until August 29.
The French photographer, the New York Times wrote, “used his tiny hand-held 35-millimeter Leica camera to bear humane witness to many of the century’s signal events, from the Spanish Civil War to the German occupation of France to the partition of India to the Chinese revolution to the student uprisings of 1968.” His importance was such that the Ministry of Culture in France announced his death, in the rural Vaucluse region in southeastern France.
With his “normal” camera and “normal” lens in hand, he caught historic moments and human drama in a time when, as the Times notes, magazines were still a primary source of visual information about the world for many people. Nicolas Piccato, audiovisual attache at the French embassy in Korea, calls Cartier-Bresson “an amazing character who lived all the changes in the century, by traveling worldwide with camera in hand.”
Cartier-Bresson was in France for the liberation of Paris. He was in India with Gandhi only hours before his assassination. He witnessed the rise of Mao in China. His black and white images were lyrical, sometimes funny, and always engaging.
Born in Chanteloup in 1908, Cartier-Bresson grew up surrounded by drawings and paintings by his great-grandfather, his father and his uncle.
He began to study painting in 1927 under Andre Lhote. Looking for adventure, he set off for Africa, where he contracted blackwater fever, nearly dying. While recuperating in Marseilles in 1931, he acquired his first Leica.
He continued to travel, often under the aegis of Magnum Photos, a photo agency that he, along with Robert Capa and David Seymour, known as Chim, founded in 1947.
Drawing upon a background as a painter, Cartier-Bresson captured critical moments without using artificial techniques. And as the title of the exhibition at Lumiere indicates, the photos on display capture that “decisive moment.” The prints at Gallery Lumiere are signed by the photographer.
“He said himself, he believes in the right instance ― being at the right time at the right place, if we translate it today,” Piccato says.
In 1932, Cartier-Bresson happened to be behind a fence of the Gare Saint Lazare railway station in Paris. The photo he took, “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare,” is of a man jumping from a ladder lying flat in a puddle.
“Cardinal Pacelli in Montmartre” affirms Cartier-Bresson’s reputuation as a groundbreaking photojournalist. While most photographers would capture the cardinal’s face, Cartier-Bresson shows the back of his head. But by including the people in the background, particularly a man kissing his hand, the importance of the cardinal is evident.
“Bresson is a godfather to documentary photographers and photojournalists,” says Lee Jang-uk, curator at the Kim Yeong-seob Photo Gallery. “The death of Bresson is a great loss for the worldwide photography scene.”
by Joe Yong-hee
For more information about the exhibition, call Gallery Lumiere at (02) 517-2134, or go to the Web site at www.gallerylumiere.com.