by Elizabeth Culbert
While the photographer faces a vanishing subject, the writer has time to reflect. It is our good fortune that Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century and one of the most important figures in the history of the medium, is gifted in both modes of expression. After a lifetime of capturing "the decisive moment"—that instant when the image in the viewfinder culminates in a harmony of form, expression, and content—Cartier-Bresson revisits his pictures and experiences with words, and delivers those words in an impassioned voice. Now in his early 90s, Cartier-Bresson was a student of painting and literature until he picked up a Leica camera in 1932. The 35-mm camera—the kind most of us carry around today—was a totally new kind of machine. Its light weight, sharp lens, and the rolls of film it held offered new potential to the photographer, and Cartier-Bresson used it to capture spontaneity and present motion in beautifully composed images. He began making photos that revealed profound content in the mundane and beauty in the simple gesture.
The Mind's Eye is collection of Cartier-Bresson's writings (some appearing in English for the first time) on the people he has known, the places he has visited, and his relationship with the world he found through the lens of his Leica. It features his essay on "the decisive moment," an important text for understanding the development of photography and photojournalism. His frank and insightful descriptions of time spent in China, Cuba, Russia and parts of Europe during volatile periods provide further context for some of his better known images. Comments on photographers and friends like Robert Capa, David "Chim" Seymour, and André Kertész are carefully composed, an admiring kind of poetry: of Tériade he writes, "—Velvet glove and fervor. / —Eye of lynx and lively pen..."
Cartier-Bresson believes that a successful photograph depends on a unison of the eye, the brain and the heart. As he now looks with his mind's eye, making pictures with words, he continues to contribute to an expansive record of our time and to the way we see.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2000 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2000