Cartier-Bresson had a lifelong love of art, literature, and travel. Like so many photographers, Cartier-Bresson’ interest in photography began in his youth with a Brownie box camera (I remember using my Mom’s Brownie when I was a kid). He had formal training as a painter, and studied with the Cubist painter André Lhote. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, life’s twists and turns took him to England and Côte d’Ivoire and eventually to Marseille.
It was here in the south of France that he was taken with the photojournalistic style of photography of the early 1930s. He bought a small Leica camera, and took to the streets. He found the small format perfect for walking through crowds largely unnoticed, so that his subjects wouldn’t be conscious of being photographed. In fact, he is said to have painted the reflective portions of the camera black to avoid drawing attention to himself as he worked.
Cartier-Bresson constantly sought the spontaneous and unscripted moments in life, and did so without any sort of manipulation of his images. He refused to use filters and rarely even cropped his compositions once he had taken the picture.
His technical approach was akin to that of the f/64 Group in America, and some of his earliest successes were exhibitions in the States. His subjects, however, were the people, rather than the places that he visited. This is visible in the devoted faces of the crowd swarming Cardinal Pacelli and the spontaneous warmth of a greeting on a houseboat in Bougival.
The photographs pictured here will be sold at the Skinner Fine Prints & Photography auction on September 7, 2012 in Boston.