What is photography? What is a photographer? And, what is photojournalism today?
These three questions came to mind as I studied the 300 photographs at the new Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition that opened at MoMA last week. The show entitled The Modern Century focuses on the master’s most productive decades, the 1930s through 1960s. Curated by Peter Galassi, the show features iconic images that brilliantly chronicle the joy and tragedy of the human condition, all in black and white.
Photography has advanced since the ’60s and those of us involved in design, marketing, and advertising benefit from the medium’s continuous innovation. It’s been non-stop since the time of Daguerre and now we have more ways to take photos than ever before. In addition to conventional film and the host of digital cameras, images are captured on laptops, Web cams, surveillance cameras, by military drones and of course, cell phones. The number of mobile phone subscriptions worldwide is expected to increase to five billion this year, according to CBS News and the U.N. Telecommunications Agency. If each phone has a camera, add billions of “amateur” photographers taking pictures. But what defines an amateur when news anchors frequently ask TV audiences to send in photos of world events for prime time broadcast?
Henri Cartier-Bresson might have embraced the blistering pace of the 24-hour news cycle. He was accustomed to working quickly and sending film directly to magazines, sometimes never seeing the image until it was in publication.
As Holland Cotter, art critic for the New York Times, said in a recent review, “Cartier-Bresson’s dematerialized working method, so focused on the shutter moment, set a model for modern photojournalism, a field he basically invented.”
I met Cartier-Bresson at an exhibition of his work at the International Center of Photography in 1979. We exchanged a few words in French and shook hands. Oddly, this man of the camera despised having his picture taken. Upon leaving the show he followed me out the door right into the peering lens of a photographer. After the flash, I could hear him bark: “Merde!”
Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century, is at MoMA until June 28.
© 2010 Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos, courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
Ken Carbone is among America’s most respected graphic designers, whose work is renowned for its clarity and intelligence. He has built an international reputation creating outstanding programs for world-class clients, including Tiffany & Co., W.L Gore, Herman Miller, PBS, Christie’s, Nonesuch Records, the W Hotel Group, and The Taubman Company. His clients also include celebrated cultural institutions such as the Museé du Louvre, The Museum of Modern Art, The Pierpont Morgan Library, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the High Museum of Art.