“There are ways of communicating our photographs other than through publication in magazines,” writes Henri Cartier-Bresson. “Exhibitions, for instance; and the book form, which is almost a form of permanent exhibition.” Originally included in the English translation of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Images à la Sauvette, published in France in 1952, these words reveal the photographer’s early interest the public reception and exhibition of his work. The book’s groundbreaking impact in the western world not only prompted a renewed interest in the photobook as a medium in its own right, it also contributed to elevating the artist to the mid-century photography icon that he is today.
No event could best embody his quote than the International Center of Photography’s, New York, exhibition, named The Decisive Moment after its English translation. Revolving around a selection of 71 out of the 126 photographs originally featured in the print publication, the exhibition explores the origins of the project and pays homage to the book’s legacy. Letters and correspondence between Cartier-Bresson and some of his collaborators, including Henri Matisse, who designed the cover, bring fascinating insight into his creative process. Mimicking the book’s structure, the show opens with an excerpt from Cartier-Bresson’s English introduction; and similarly separates photographs of the East and West taken between 1932 and 1952, creating two distinct geographic sections within the museum space.
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1. Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Decisive Moment (Simon & Schuster, 1952), p. 68, Truman Capote, New Orleans, United States, July 1946. © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos.
2.Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Decisive Moment (Simon & Schuster, 1952), p. 39, Behind the Gare St. Lazare, Place de l’Europe, Paris, France, 1932. © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos.
3. Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Decisive Moment (Simon & Schuster, 1952), p. 119-120, Rice Field, Sumatra, Indonesia, 1949. © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos.