- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2004

PARIS - Legendary French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who traveled the world for more than half a century capturing human drama with his camera, has died at 95.

Mr. Cartier-Bresson shot for Life, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar magazines, and his work inspired generations of photographers. He became a French national treasure, although he was famously averse to having his own picture taken and to giving interviews.

The French Culture Ministry said Mr. Cartier-Bresson died Monday and that funeral services were held yesterday. Media reports said he died in Isle sur Sorgue in the rural Vaucluse region of Provence in southeastern France.

“He was perhaps the greatest photographer of the 20th century,” said John Morris, who first met Mr. Cartier-Bresson at the door of Paris’ Hotel Scribe five days after the Germans left the city at the end of World War II.

Later, when Mr. Morris was executive editor of Magnum Photos, Mr. Cartier-Bresson worked with him. They remained lifelong friends.

Gary Knight, managing director of the cooperative photo agency VII, called Mr. Cartier-Bresson one of the most influential photographers of all time.

“He inspired people, and he defined photography at that crucial period when small cameras were coming into fashion and its entire nature was changing,” Mr. Knight said.

Whether recording the funeral of Mohandas K. Gandhi in India or Henri Matisse at home, Mr. Cartier-Bresson sought to render the feeling of the moment with his distinctive classical style and penchant for geometrical composition.

“In whatever one does, there must be a relationship between the eye and the heart,” he once said in a rare interview. “With the one eye that is closed, one looks within; with the other eye that is open, one looks without.”

With his uncanny sense of timing and intuition, Mr. Cartier-Bresson captured the presence of places and the cultures of people as distinct as William Faulkner and Chinese revolutionaries.

He disdained arranged photographs and artificial settings and said photographers should shoot accurately and quickly.

His concept of photography centered on what he described as “the decisive moment” — the moment evoking the ultimate significance of a given situation as all the external elements fall perfectly into place.

Mr. Cartier-Bresson shot with a Leica, the quietest of cameras, working only with black-and-white film and, notably, without a flash. Thrusting a subject in the limelight, he once said, was a sure way to destroy it.

He also opposed cropping pictures, saying it diluted their meanings.

While most of his international fame was generated from worldwide exhibitions and publications including Harper’s Bazaar, Mr. Cartier-Bresson gained recognition from documentary films he made about medical aid to the loyalists in the Spanish Civil War and about French prisoners of war returning home at the end of World War II.

Mr. Cartier-Bresson was born Aug. 22, 1908, in Chanteloup, outside Paris, to a wealthy textile-industry family.

The eldest of three children, he was interested mainly in painting. At 20, he turned his back on the lucrative family business to study art.

In 1930, with a Brownie box camera, he started dabbling in photography. Two years later, armed with his Leica, he began a series of photo expeditions to the French Ivory Coast, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany and Italy.

After publishing photos from his travels in several major magazines, Mr. Cartier-Bresson had his first exhibition in Madrid in 1933. Later that year, he had the first of several major shows in New York.

The brilliant, pioneering shots of the 1930s captured the urban scene, trapping momentary visual delights of life in motion.

Many critics said his most brilliant photograph was “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare,” which depicts a man leaping over a puddle and frozen in midair, with his shadow forming a symmetrical V contrasting with the fence above the railroad tracks.

Mr. Cartier-Bresson also was drawn to the cinema and worked as an assistant director to esteemed French director Jean Renoir on his classic “The Rules of the Game.”

He then turned his documentary talents to the Spanish Civil War.

At the outbreak of World War II, he was drafted into the French army, where he was a corporal in a film and photo unit captured in the Vosges mountain range in June 1940.

After nearly three years in German prison camps, Mr. Cartier-Bresson escaped and made his way back to Paris, where he divided his time between commercial photography and transporting ex-prisoners for the French underground.

His work during and after the war had the feel of his documentary films, and his pictures emerged as stunning reportage of the underground Resistance and the political drama of postwar Europe.

His photos have been featured in one-man shows in major museums and galleries worldwide. In 1979, the cream of his work was shown at New York’s International Center of Photography and then toured for three years to 15 cities in the United States and Mexico.

In the last 25 years of his life, Mr. Cartier-Bresson largely turned away from photography to embrace his first love, painting and drawing. By 1988, he was spending most days sketching in pencil or charcoal at his Paris home or at his retreat in southern France.

In 1937, Mr. Cartier-Bresson married a Javanese dancer named Ratna Mohini. In 1970, he married Martine Franck, with whom he had one daughter, Melanie.

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