Henri Cartier-Bresson rocks the MoMA

The Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century exhibit has been on my to-do list since it opened in April at the MoMA and I’m delighted that Number 12 has been checked off the Summer Bucket List.  The sixth floor of the museum currently houses hundreds of Cartier-Bresson’s photos, some well-known and some revealed to the public for the first time.  I was only familiar with a couple of his pieces and popularity as the father of modern photojournalism, which was enough to draw me in, but I soon learned that the man lead a fascinating life.

First, Cartier-Bresson was born into the life we all want.  He was the eldest son of a wealthy Parisian manufacturer, which supplied him with money and the ability to pursue the new medium of photography instead of finding a “real job.” With his seemingly endless budget, Cartier-Bresson traveled to nearly every corner of the earth. The MoMA shows detailed maps of his journeys and various modes of transportation, which he carefully documented with his trusty 35 mm film camera. Not to mention he also got caught up in World War II and went missing for a bit.  Not to worry, however, he resurfaced with great success and became one of the lead photojournalists for Life magazine and his wealthy status also afforded him the opportunity to build his portrait portfolio, which includes impressive names like Coco Chanel, Truman Capote, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sarte, Igor Stravinsky and Marilyn Monroe.  Can I get an invite to that party, please?!

Jean-Paul Sarte with architect Jean Pouillon

I thought one of the most fascinating parts of the exhibit were his collections from the Bankers Trust Company (New York, 1960) and The Great Leap Forward (China, 1958).  Cartier-Bresson’s photojournalist style is highly evident in his photos for the Bankers Trust Company’s annual report, one of the first annual reports in history to contain photographs.  Politically somewhere between a capitalist and a communist (aren’t we all?) Cartier-Bresson managed to capture the management at the Bankers Trust Company with a “watchful eye” (yawning, stretching, etc.), while showing the secretaries and others hard at work—all in the pre-computer era, of course.

The Cartier-Bresson exhibit runs through June 28 at the MoMA. Also, as a budget sidenote, I highly recommend becoming a MoMA member. Admission for individuals is $20 per person and an individual membership is only $75 and tax-deductible, and allows you to bring friends into the museum for $5 each.  I have been to the MoMA five times since I began a member back in November, and always bring visitors with me so the membership has more than paid for itself. Additionally, the membership gains you access to Member Previews, which means you can avoid the herds of tourists that descend on popular exhibits.  Ok, enough of my budget-conscious rationalizing support of the arts— go see it for yourself!


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