Henri Cartier-Bresson

China. Beijing. December. 1948

1948
gelatin silver print, edition 36/50
255mm x 167mm

photographer’s/copyright stamp and number in pencil verso

Provenance

Collection of John B Turner.
Gifted by Brian Brake to the New Zealand Centre for Photography, 1985.
Purchased in 2011.

Essay

Henri Cartier-Bresson is widely considered one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century, a pioneer of street photography and photojournalism. Born in Franc...

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Estimate $3,000 - $5,000
Achieved $4,924.50

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Beijing

1948-9

gelatin silver print

photographer’s/copyright stamp applied and inscribed 276_23 in ink verso

171mm x 251mm

Auction N˚5

Estimate $3,000 - $5,000

Achieved $3,603.75

Bresson in China: A “decisive moment”

by Frances Clark

Henri Cartier-Bresson is widely considered one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century, a pioneer of street photography and photojournalism. Born in France and educated at Cambridge, Cartier-Bresson travelled widely between the 1930s and early 1970s, supplying images to magazines and newspapers around the world. His practice, as well as being a paying career, was motivated by his left-wing principles, and an interest in the lives of ordinary people. In 1947, along with a number of other photographers, he established the Magnum photographic agency, a still extant cooperative which helped photographers and photojournalists keep ownership of their own images. Cartier-Bresson is particularly remembered for his 1952 monograph published in English as The Decisive Moment; in it, he argued that the photographer’s art lay in finding and showing, in a single moment, the harmony of forms and quintessence of the subject.

In 1948 Cartier-Bresson travelled to India, where, with his uncanny timing, he happened to be present to photograph Ghandi’s last fast, his assassination and his funeral. Cartier-Bresson then travelled on to China, where he arrived on the scene of the Chinese Civil War, amidst an air of violence, rampant inflation, and the confusion surrounding the crumbling of Kuomintang rule. According to Magnum Photos and Cartier-Bresson’s own notes, this particular image was taken in Beijing in December 1948, only weeks before the Communist army would arrive in the city, an event Cartier-Bresson would also be present to photograph.