More than half a century ago, New York’s Museum of Modern Art planned a “posthumous” exhibition of photographs by the then-little-known French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. At the time, MoMA’s first curators of photography, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, believed their friend had died in World War II. Cartier-Bresson, it turned out, was very much alive – so alive, in fact, that he would become the most influential photographer of the 20th century, which he outlived by four years. And with MoMA leading the way, his influence seems likely to continue well into the 21st. “Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century,” an audaciously titled exhibition of the work of HCB – as he is known in the shorthand of the art world – opens to the public on April 11. Adroitly selected by MoMA’s chief curator of photography, Peter Galassi, the show’s 300 prints offer fresh insights into the character and style of one of the most creative figures in modern art history. As a young man, Cartier-Bresson never intended to be a photographer, but a painter; photographers were not then considered artists. He studied under the Cubist painter Andre Lhote, but did not think much of his own early creations. So, after acquiring a Leica in 1931, HCB went off to see the world. This gave him an opportunity to pursue a kind of visual anthropology in carefully composed images.
more from John G. Morris at Vanity Fair here.