The subtitle of the Pompidou Centre’s retrospective of the 20th century’s best-known photographer could be: Almost Everything You Know About Henri Cartier-Bresson is Wrong. Or, at least, Long Overdue a Rethink.Its curator, Clement Cheroux, has risen to the unspoken challenge that any Cartier-Bresson exhibition now presents: how to shed new light on the life and work of an artist who so defined the medium that yet another celebration of his genius might seem superfluous.
Cheroux has wisely chosen to tackle his life chronologically, mapping out through around 500 images the stages of Cartier-Bresson’s creative development, while allowing us surprising glimpses of the private individual behind the legend. The show includes family albums, portraits of the artist as a young and old man, his early paintings, late drawings, and even a couple of striking, surrealist-influenced collages. Here, the two aspects of Cartier-Bresson’s life that have long defined him – his coining of the term “the decisive moment” to describe street photography and the co-founding of Magnum in 1947 – are not so much ignored as woven into the creative tapestry of a restless but intensely focused life.