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Henri Cartier-Bresson: A Biography

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The twentieth century was the century of the image and Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) was the eye of the century. Through the decades, this eye focused on Africa in the 1920s, the tragic fate of the Spanish Republicans, and the victory of the Chinese Communists. It was Cartier-Bresson who fixed in our minds the features of his contemporaries: Giacometti and Sartre as ch The twentieth century was the century of the image and Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) was the eye of the century. Through the decades, this eye focused on Africa in the 1920s, the tragic fate of the Spanish Republicans, and the victory of the Chinese Communists. It was Cartier-Bresson who fixed in our minds the features of his contemporaries: Giacometti and Sartre as characters from their own works; Mauriac mysteriously levitating; Faulkner, Matisse, Camus, and countless others captured at the decisive moment in portraits for eternity. An intensely private individual, Cartier-Bresson confided in his close friend Pierre Assouline over a number of years, even opening up his archives to him. Here, for the first time, we read about his youthful devotion to surrealism; his unending passion for drawing; the war and the prison camps; the friends and the women in his life. Assouline provides an acute and perceptive account of the life and philosophy of this icon of our times, and gives us an opportunity to reassess his contribution to twentieth-century photography and reportage. 23 illustrations.


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The twentieth century was the century of the image and Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) was the eye of the century. Through the decades, this eye focused on Africa in the 1920s, the tragic fate of the Spanish Republicans, and the victory of the Chinese Communists. It was Cartier-Bresson who fixed in our minds the features of his contemporaries: Giacometti and Sartre as ch The twentieth century was the century of the image and Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) was the eye of the century. Through the decades, this eye focused on Africa in the 1920s, the tragic fate of the Spanish Republicans, and the victory of the Chinese Communists. It was Cartier-Bresson who fixed in our minds the features of his contemporaries: Giacometti and Sartre as characters from their own works; Mauriac mysteriously levitating; Faulkner, Matisse, Camus, and countless others captured at the decisive moment in portraits for eternity. An intensely private individual, Cartier-Bresson confided in his close friend Pierre Assouline over a number of years, even opening up his archives to him. Here, for the first time, we read about his youthful devotion to surrealism; his unending passion for drawing; the war and the prison camps; the friends and the women in his life. Assouline provides an acute and perceptive account of the life and philosophy of this icon of our times, and gives us an opportunity to reassess his contribution to twentieth-century photography and reportage. 23 illustrations.

30 review for Henri Cartier-Bresson: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Considering how interested I am in photography, I actually read very few biographies of individual photographers. This book reminded me why I read so few... I don't know, but I bet that most writers who write biographies of photographers are NOT themselves photographers...Nor curators or art historians or collectors. Not people who, through training or practice, are accomplished at reading or making images. At least, that seems to be the case here, with this biographer. There are the factual errors Considering how interested I am in photography, I actually read very few biographies of individual photographers. This book reminded me why I read so few... I don't know, but I bet that most writers who write biographies of photographers are NOT themselves photographers...Nor curators or art historians or collectors. Not people who, through training or practice, are accomplished at reading or making images. At least, that seems to be the case here, with this biographer. There are the factual errors he makes,* but maybe worse is the haziness when he discusses CB's work. So few sentences devoted to discussing the Gare Saint Lazare photograph? The photograph that defined the Decisive Moment style? And why did Cartier-Bresson become interested in photography, to begin with? we don't have any real ideas as to why. Much of the time, it feels like the biographer is offering answers off-the-cuff, not based on any uncovered facts or thorough research. There are some good moments. Cartier-Bresson's childhood and teenage years are vividly-described, as is his time spent in, and escape from, a German POW camp. And the complicated politics of the Magnum photo agency is fairly well narrated. Don't a lot of people read bios for the juicy gossip tidbits? There's not much of that here, either. Wouldn't his tempestuous, 30-year marriage to the Indonesian dancer Ratna have offered that? Nope, sorry. The last 100 pages feel like a summation and I'm sitting there with the book in my hand and a handful of potato chips in my mouth yelling "Wait a minute! It's too soon to wrap-up his life just yet. It's only the mid-1950s! He's not dead yet. He's still got a lot of work to do!" I wish HCB's own book, "The Decisive Moment," would be re-published. ------------- *Tri-X film wasn't introduced in 35mm format until 1954! Cartier-Bresson couldn't have used it during the first 20+ years of his career! So what film did he use over that period? Help us out, here.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Hümâ

    Kitap, HCB fotoğraflarının arkasındaki kişiyi tam olarak anlatmak da başarılı olamamış maalesef.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dovile

    Found this very hard going. The book is overly descriptive and analytical and contain very little detail on artist's personal life. Descriptions very repetitive, some chapters describe every film that Cartier-Bresson made. This is not a critical, all-rounded biography - more of a tribute to the artist and 270 page long discussion of his talent. A disappointing book, difficult for a general reader. Found this very hard going. The book is overly descriptive and analytical and contain very little detail on artist's personal life. Descriptions very repetitive, some chapters describe every film that Cartier-Bresson made. This is not a critical, all-rounded biography - more of a tribute to the artist and 270 page long discussion of his talent. A disappointing book, difficult for a general reader.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Pinco Panco

    Assouline dichiara di aver scritto una biografia in quanto amico di Cartier Bresson . Io non ci credo . Questo libro è un'operazione commerciale poco onesta: ha preso tutte le informazioni disponibili sulla vita del fotografo e le ha "allungate" per riempire le pagine di questo libro. Lo stile di scrittura che ne risulta è pesante e irritante. Chi è interessato alla vita di Cartier Bresson troverà le stesse informazioni online , senza sottoporsi alla sgradevole lettura di questo autore. Assouline dichiara di aver scritto una biografia in quanto amico di Cartier Bresson . Io non ci credo . Questo libro è un'operazione commerciale poco onesta: ha preso tutte le informazioni disponibili sulla vita del fotografo e le ha "allungate" per riempire le pagine di questo libro. Lo stile di scrittura che ne risulta è pesante e irritante. Chi è interessato alla vita di Cartier Bresson troverà le stesse informazioni online , senza sottoporsi alla sgradevole lettura di questo autore.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sal

    More like 3.5 stars. Most of it borders on hagiography and there is more than a bit of artsy-babble. But the author does go on to present more of the "difficult" side of HCB along with a genuine appreciation for the person and his art as a photographer. That he was less successful in drawing and painting actually adds to the transcendent nature of his gift as a photographer. And of the life he lived. Brise-cou. More like 3.5 stars. Most of it borders on hagiography and there is more than a bit of artsy-babble. But the author does go on to present more of the "difficult" side of HCB along with a genuine appreciation for the person and his art as a photographer. That he was less successful in drawing and painting actually adds to the transcendent nature of his gift as a photographer. And of the life he lived. Brise-cou.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Stan

    If you have been an admirer of his work and want to dig in deeper into his past, this is a good book for you. Very complete and writing by someone who was a true believer.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne Feliciano

    Wanted to know more about his shooting decisions and personal life when he was older but a good bio to start. What a great photographer!

  8. 4 out of 5

    David

    I had read Assouline's Hergé biography and what I remembered from it was Hergé, not Assouline at all....I still wondered if that was good or not when I picked up this one from the shelf. Everyone knows that Assouline is a good reader and critic but that doesnt make one automatically an excellent "plume". The book ended up being a good intro to Cartier, though I can't pretend I knew much about his life or -even- his work before I read it, and I can't pretend I want to know more about the person now I had read Assouline's Hergé biography and what I remembered from it was Hergé, not Assouline at all....I still wondered if that was good or not when I picked up this one from the shelf. Everyone knows that Assouline is a good reader and critic but that doesnt make one automatically an excellent "plume". The book ended up being a good intro to Cartier, though I can't pretend I knew much about his life or -even- his work before I read it, and I can't pretend I want to know more about the person now (shy, effacé, borderline secret, and bad tempered) but it sure made me curious about his work. The "story" covers all the major chapters in his life (what Assouline lacks in style and depth, it compensates in details and in being exhaustive). His theories about style and the act of taking a picture are explained in a very didactic way which sure is interesting to any amateur photograph, whatever the era.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Greg Goodale

    This book feels like the author has barely skimmed through HCB's life and is therefore disappointingly superficial, sketchy even. It seems based largely on interviews with HCB himself, occasionally buffered by additional research, but no sign of other interviews. This results in some gaps, possibly areas HCB did not wish to discuss or did not recall. The most glaring are his involvement with the Surrealists, his escape from prisoner-of-war camp, his departure from Magnum and his relationship wit This book feels like the author has barely skimmed through HCB's life and is therefore disappointingly superficial, sketchy even. It seems based largely on interviews with HCB himself, occasionally buffered by additional research, but no sign of other interviews. This results in some gaps, possibly areas HCB did not wish to discuss or did not recall. The most glaring are his involvement with the Surrealists, his escape from prisoner-of-war camp, his departure from Magnum and his relationship with Martine Franck. There is also very little detail of the creation of his key works and virtually no juicy anecdotes. Detail of his photographic technique are poorly fact-checked. In places the translation is weak, particularly in the latter, posthumous supplement. But there's so little written about him that it will have to do. I think I would still recommend it, but alongside a good history of Surrealism to add insight into his early creative life.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nilson R.

    concentrating more on the person than the photographer and more on HCB's career more than his most famous works, this isn't definitely any coffee table book: but a detailed, insightful biography written by a friend. concentrating more on the person than the photographer and more on HCB's career more than his most famous works, this isn't definitely any coffee table book: but a detailed, insightful biography written by a friend.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Courtenay

    I found too much of the author's personal thrill with being allowed access to Cartier-Bresson, and not necessarily that much new info...it has been sitting half-read for a long time, so that tells you something. I found too much of the author's personal thrill with being allowed access to Cartier-Bresson, and not necessarily that much new info...it has been sitting half-read for a long time, so that tells you something.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    Biografia maravilhosa, não apenas pela vida sem paralelo do mestre Cartier-Bresson, mas pela escrita cheia de detalhes históricos de Pierre Assouline, autor que pode conviver com Bresson por 5 anos antes de sua morte.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Natalia

    Many times, rather than a biography, this book seems like the comment of the author on the life of this photographer. It is also a heavy reading.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bob Peru

    hcb. hero. this bio is very french.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Peter

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mia

  17. 4 out of 5

    David Box

  18. 5 out of 5

    Brad

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

  20. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Eliasson

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lucio Aru

  22. 4 out of 5

    Guilherme Dearo

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dinah Verleun

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jeibi Medeiros

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dennis

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matt Kelly

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lulu

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ana

  29. 4 out of 5

    Thiago

  30. 5 out of 5

    aswin

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