100 Years Henri Cartier-Bresson

I was on a business trip in Ludwigshafen and Mannheim this week, and I noticed a poster for a an exhibition of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s early work in the Kunsthalle Mannheim. I was leaving today, so I canceled my last meeting and went to see the exhibit instead. 😉

It is dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the birth of Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 — 2004), and it shows 79 prints from the early 1930’s. Wow, talk about getting back to the roots of photography — one camera, one lens, black-and-white film and absolutely no cropping of the negatives! What a contrast to today’s fancy bodies, fast zoom lenses and super pumped-up colors in Photoshop… (Which of course is symptomatic of weak images needing a digital trick in order to grab attention.)

If you have some interest in photography, you’ve probably already seen some of the images that I saw today, but I saw original prints with size 30 x 45 cm and not the usual small reproductions in books or on the Internet. Of course not all images were equally strong (my favorites are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7), but HCB was indeed a master of composition and already at the age of 24 had a great feel for “the decisive moment.”

But he accomplished yet another feat — what he saw in the viewfinder was the final image — his prints always show 100% of the negative. To me this sounds utterly incredible, as I always shoot with some extra space around the desired image and I crop my images to many different aspect ratios, whatever fits the subject best.

Anyhow, the exhibit is very inspiring and definitely worth seeing. If you are in the area any time until June 8, go for it!

Copyright Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos

PS: It was this image that inspired HCB to take his camera and go out in the streets.

PPS: Maybe HCB had two lenses. A small number of images (for example, the one above) appear to have been taken with a wide-angle lens.