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Hyeres, 1932


MARC RIBOUD talks about Henri Cartier-Bresson:

It is amazing how this man and his work are alike. They forever rhyme.

If you meet Henri, even before saying hello he’s likely to toss you his credo: “knowing how to look can be learned, but it is a tough pleasure”. He may add with a smile: “some never succeed”.

He never stays still, except when he draws. Then he contemplates more than he looks. But his eyes, I imagine, never stop moving, scrutinizing, seizing details. And if you look closely at his drawings they are inhabited with movement, even landscapes. I have heard him more often speak of painting than about photography. It was an obsession even when photography filled his days from dawn into the night.
An invisible force gave rise to his photographic style: a tension, “l’instinct de l’instant”, then a drive where his culture mixed unconsciously and spontaneously with the learned rules. Those rules could have stumbled into academic. That is where his personality so strongly impregnated his work. Tradition and conformism were never his things. Henri the libertarian, the anarchist, the Buddhist is the very opposite. “Vivre la revolution permanente” is one of his favourite mottos. But there is more: as a cultured and politically engaged man, his life rhymes with rigor and discipline. Yet he seems animated by an extraordinary undercurrent. An undercurrent often controlled, but which can suddenly burst as a torrent. His indignations, revolts, angers are known as well as his pace of life, his appetite for culture, for all cultures, and the number and quality of his friends, all around the world.

Is he everyone’s master? No, he would rather be everyone’s friend.

An anecdote: In the early fifties I took Henri to a station for a train to the south of France. He took his luggage to his reserved seat, then walked back down to the platform and told me with a witty eye: “I am between a pretty girl and a priest. Therefore I can sin on one side and confess on the other”.
He did not report on the trip!


Henri Cartier Bresson does not like words or comments on his photographs. He prefers to let us be carried by the pleasure of the eye. But for Henri, pleasure is not enough. The form and the structure of the image are essential. If they are absent, whatever the subject, there is no image. To check if the composition is right, Henri’s advice is to look at a photo upside down. This photo is a splendid example. Once you turn it around the subject disappears to let only the lines and the curves draw an abstract and harmonious design; a perfect composition emphasizing the movement of a strange machine caught at the right place at the right (decisive) moment. Now if you look at the image the right way up, the pleasure becomes greater when you understand where it comes from.

Marc Riboud, Paris, July 2003

To see the work of Marc Riboud click here

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© 2003 Hackelbury Fine Art, Ltd. Copyright for all images is held by the respective artist or estate and they may not be reproduced in any form without express premission. All rights reserved.