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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 August, 2004, 17:42 GMT 18:42 UK
Obituary: Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Cartier-Bresson was the founding father of photo-journalism

Henri Cartier-Bresson, who has died in France at the age of 95, inspired generations of photographers. BBC News Online looks back at his career.

Few have matched Henri Cartier-Bresson's ability with the camera. Photography, to him, was a means of freezing a fleeting moment in time.

His technique was based on previsualising the finished print, waiting until the "decisive moment", then, with a single exposure, creating a photo that was both spontaneous and carefully composed.

It was a style of photography made possible by the invention of the miniature hand-held camera. It enabled him to move quickly and unobtrusively.

Geometric patterns

With his eye for geometric patterns, and influenced by the surrealist movement, Cartier-Bresson captured images of life that might have been composed on canvas.

There were countless famous pictures: Indian beggars, Spanish refugees from the civil war, Algerians demonstrating in Paris or just an ordinary family holding a picnic on the banks of the River Marne.

A family picnic by the River Marne
A family picnic by the River Marne
Born in Paris in 1908, the son of a wealthy industrialist, Cartier-Bresson initially studied painting.

He started taking photographs because it was a convenient way of recording the sights that interested him.

He began his photographic career in 1930 and had several major exhibitions before entering cinematography as assistant to the renowned director, Jean Renoir.

Photographic agency

During the war he was held prisoner, but eventually escaped and joined the Resistance.

As France was being liberated he took a famous picture of a Nazi informer being denounced.

After the war, Cartier-Bresson became a founding member of Magnum, a group of photographers who were determined to retain control of their own work.

A Belgian woman is denounced as a collaborator
A Belgian woman is denounced as a Gestapo collaborator
It was, one contemporary observed, more like a religious order than a mere photographic agency.

For the next two decades, Cartier-Bresson photographed in India, China, the USSR, the United States, Canada and Japan.

Lasting influence

Although he covered showpiece events such as the coronation of George VI and the funeral of Mahatma Gandhi, he was fascinated more by the faces in the watching crowd.

Despite being revered as a photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson rarely took up his camera in later life, choosing instead to return to drawing.

However, he lived to see the opening of the Foundation, created in his name, in Paris in 2003.

The Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation was recognised as an institution of public interest by the French Government, marking the great legacy and lasting influence of the founding father of photo-journalism.

Photographer Cartier-Bresson dies
04 Aug 04  |  Entertainment
Timeline: Henri Cartier-Bresson
16 May 03  |  Europe

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