Henri Cartier Bresson – Pompidou Centre
It is fitting that Henri Cartier Bresson’s life work should be presented to large audiences at the Pompidou Centre. A popular space for his work to be viewed in such a highly accessible venue. Henri Cartier Bresson is a photographer who’s images capsulate generations from many different countries. He was photographer who took pride in his work and captured true moments that he selected with great precision and creativity. This exhibition is more of a museum, a homage to the man himself from his birth in 1908 to his death in 2004. His importance is made evident by his founding of the Magnum photography archive, revolutionising street photography, capturing two world wars and Ghandi’s funeral to name a few. True relics of photography that captured the imagination of many.
Henri Cartier Bresson is a photographer who almost everyone interested in the history photography is aware of. His work and his definitive style would be instantly recognisable by many, so it would be unproductive to critique his endeavours. I experienced his work at an exhibition in Lucca (Italy) and hundreds of exhibitions have exhibited his elegant prints over a span of several decades. Therefore the most accurate critique would be purely of the way that the work is exhibited and the way the audience engages with it. Not adding to the list of people who leave reviews of the late pioneer of modern photography.
The exhibition explains the relatively unexplained. Starting with his concealed paintings. Personally unaware that Bresson started out as a painter, it was great to appreciate other mediums that he’d explored and understand the significance that it had on his admiration for photography; a much truer medium that he felt he could experience greater creativity in. This selection of work was at the start of the exhibition, showing it as a separate entity. By creating these sections to the exhibition made the information a lot easier to condense. There was ample amount of information with over 350 prints alongside. The addition of categories made the connections for the viewer, and made sequences that linked well with descriptions and kept to a tight chronological que. These categories also expressed the scale and diversity of his work; highlighting different themes that he had explored within his photographic career such as cubism, photo-journalistic, the face of poverty and people as observers. Furthermore, he’d experienced with film (motion) as well as photography, something that isn’t always presented alongside his photography; but its presentation is a spectacle that demonstrates the reach of his talent and influence.
The work however felt claustrophobic presented on the multifold walls. By placing reams of prints on each small wall it was difficult to appreciate each image individually. It drew more focus to the context of the photograph and not the image itself. This was however counter balanced by the alluring spot lights illuminating each print individually. By selecting this lighting it blazed the images against the background, creating an interesting separation which did draw attention to them as unique images. But by doing this to every image, the effect wore off, and seemingly created a claustrophobic jumble of famous images that deserve more considered treatment. Understandably with such a large collection of 350+ prints, there is limited space for this appreciation and the ‘exhibition’ has had to take more of a museum stance on the artist because of this large collection and homage to their prized historical figure. It would be nice however to be placed in an even larger space so this factor can be accounted for.
The space does however work well to document the life and works of Henri Cartier Bresson. It picks out aspects of his life that the public would show interest in and couples it with excellent descriptions. The prints themselves are stunning artefacts framed coherently with spacious white backgrounds and thick black frames which draw attention to these fine black and white prints. The images themselves are all expertly composed with great moments taken, something that Bresson captured in abundance. As someone who was inspired into photography by this man, I found the exhibition visually and intellectually stimulating, despite there behind limitations about the space. I find it equally as important to document as well as capture images, and to be presented with all the knowledge on display it was of huge interest for me to read and indulge myself with this ‘exhibition’.