May 19, 2006

Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye

I think many of you know of Yong Joon-ssi's love for photography.
He mentioned in an interview that one of his favorite photographers is the late Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Starting tomorrow (May 20), a film on this famous photographer will be shown in Japan.
It is called "Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye (2003)"

The other day, I found an interesting article in the Japanese newspaper called Nikkei Shimbun, written by his wife (also a photographer) named Martine Franck.
I found it interesting because there were so many similarities between this famous photographer and our Yong Joon!

So, for those who are interested, here is the translation:

The True Face of Henri
The Activities of Henri Cartier- Bresson Introduced Through a Film

(From the “Culture” column of Nikkei Shimbun May 9, 2006)

By Martine Franck (Photographer)

Frenchman Henri Cartier- Bresson is regarded as the most prominent photojournalist of the 20th century. As he was known for his reluctance in granting interviews and having his picture taken, it may be a surprise for many to hear that he had appeared in a documentary film.

Cartier-Bresson and Japan – a Long Love Affair

The film “The Impassioned Eye” was completed a year before my husband Henri died at the age of 95 in August, 2004. It was just after a major retrospective exhibit was held in Paris (this exhibit is scheduled to tour Japan in 2007), and we had just established a foundation to preserve and manage his documents and works. I think he wanted to give an account of his own activities, the work he did over a period of half a century.

A good friend took a documentary film over ten years ago, but Henri made an unreasonable demand asking the photographer “not to film his face” – he was extremely shy. However, in this new film, he talks avidly about his aesthetics on photography, which is introduced in the phrase “the decisive moment”, and also about such artists as Matisse and Degas, who he adored.

Henri would no doubt be truly pleased to know that this film will be screened in Japan. There are many fans in this country who regard his works highly. My husband, who loved to lay down on the tatami and took to wearing a yukata, served me a bowl of tea in the traditional style when we met for the first time. Until the very end, he maintained a happy relationship with Japan, something that resembled a love affair.

The Bond with Capa

Henri had first studied painting, but it was the needs of the times that led him to pursue a career as a photojournalist. During world war two, he was held captive by the German army, and succeeded in escaping on his third attempt. Thereafter, he became an active member of the resistance movement. His awareness as a “testifier of the world” developed around this time. Later, he traveled around the world with a set of Leica in his hands, witnessing the birth of communist China, and reporting on Cuba after the revolution. He also took portraits of celebrities such as the philosopher Sartre and actress Marilyn Monroe.

In 1947, he co-founded the photographic cooperative Magnum Photos along with such photographers as Robert Capa. Capa is also a photojournalist who is popular in Japan. Possessing talent and passion, the only thing they were short of was money, and on this Henri told me the following story. “When Sunday came around, Robert (Capa) would win at the horse races. I would be relieved every time thinking, oh good, we can pay the secretary”. Capa, who was an adventurer and a man popular with women, was a polar opposite of my husband in terms of character, but the two were united in the firmest of bonds.

Henri referred to a photographer as a “thief”, and a photograph as a “thrust of a dagger”. However, he was not a man who faced his subjects aggressively. His discreet attitude sometimes brought him luck.

In 1948, he was able to meet Ghandi, the father of India’s independence. Just a few hours after taking pictures of him, Ghandi was assassinated when he went outside the building. Right after this incident, a photographer by the name of Margaret Bourke-White who worked for the American Life magazine and my husband were given permission to photograph Ghandi’s body. When White used a flash to take this photograph, it incurred the wrath of the Indian people, and she was immediately deported from the country. Because my husband always preferred to use natural light for his photographs, he alone was allowed to stay until the end of the state funeral, and document this event in detail.

I would like to add that the “decisive moment” always present in his works does not mean a historical moment. Henri himself thought that “nothing that exists in this world is without a decisive moment”.

Concentrating on Drawing

This important photo that captures his friend and sculptor Giacometti is also a work that prompted Henri to reach for his camera, finding the sight of his friend walking towards the café (in which they were to meet) very funny. Behind Saint-Lazare Station, he stuck his camera between the bars of the fence, and captured the moment a man jumped over a puddle. I think it was not until later that he realized that a magical moment was captured there.

In the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, we preserve items such as the contact prints of his films. Presently, the curators of the New York Modern Museum of Art are studying the material. These are material which tells us how a photographer photographed his subject, and it may reveal something of the before and after of the “decisive moment”. However, as these are sources of a very private nature, my husband may be raising his eyebrows at this right now.

From the latter half of the 1970s, Henri worked harder with his drawings rather than his photography. It was partly due to losing the alertness required in journalism after the two operations he had on his knee, but actually, it may have been what he wanted to do the most. He loved fine art so much – he was a man who shed tears in front of a self portrait by the artist Bonnard. In the film to be shown in theaters from May 20, I think you will be able to see the unknown true face of Henri Cartier-Bresson such as these.

PHOTO: A.Giacometti, Paris 1961
photo copyright:Henri Cartier- Bresson/Magnum Photos Tokyo


bb said...

hey flowerbossa!
i enjoyed this piece, so thanks for the translation. yea, you're right, there seem to be more similiarities between these two men than anyone would have thought...

not just their love for photography, but their shyness, special 'feel' for japan... and haha, both men knew how to drink/serve tea in the japanese way :p

interesting... hope i get a chance to watch this docu-film one day.

really enjoyed this one. thanks again.

tomato99 said...

hi, flowerbossa!
I had missed this article, I have to go look for it from pile of my old papers...^^

very interesting to know this photographer, so many similarities to YJ, thank you for sharing!!!

flowerbossa said...

Good morning, bb!

Yes, isn't it amazing?

Who would of thought...
It's really too bad the great CB is not living to take a portrait of wuri YJ.

I heard from a friend that there is no schedule for the movie to be shown in other parts of Asia so far, so here is some info from Amazon:

flowerbossa said...

tomato-san! So nice of you to drop by!

If you can't find this article, I would be happy to send you a copy.

If you are planning to see it at the theater, it seems that it is a very small place, so perhaps you should check with them first.
(IT's in SHIBUYA!)

Here is the site: