Though the reputation of the great French lensman is currently in post-mortem decline, as the stock of downbeat photographers such as Stephen Shore and William Eggleston continues to soar, this little book reminds of the prodigious talent that produced many of the most famous images of the 20th century. Born in 1908 to an artistic family that made its money through thread-making (we even get to see some "Cartier-Bresson" reels on page 14), the young Henri arrived in Paris just in time for the flowering of surrealism. A little-known self-portrait of his legs lying on the edge of a precipice deserves to be one of the most celebrated works in this genre.
His ability to capture "the decisive moment" took him to the heights of photo-journalism, though there is always a painterly finesse in his images. His irresistible photograph of two beautiful girls being admired by two burnished army officers at a trolley stop in Moscow in 1955 reassuringly revealed that ordinary human feelings survived behind the Iron Curtain. The same ability to snatch the instant applied to his portraiture. As he remarked of a 1971 session at which he caught the pent-up mania of Ezra Pound: "I think I took one good photo, and four other passable ones, but no others." The images reproduced here of Stravinsky, Colette and a pouting Truman Capote are definitive portraits. The moment of Cartier-Bresson is sure to return.Reuse content