To Cartier-Bresson's eye, life was the proverbial rich tapestry, teeming with incidental details, each and every one of which struck him as significant; the snatched kiss, the chance meeting of acquaintances on a street corner, a passing reflection in a bookshop window, the delivery of a coffin, the flurry surrounding a cardinal on a walkabout, the faces of market traders, the sooty smear of factory smoke on the sky.
Ever ready with his Leica for the unpredictable and the unconscious, he roamed the streets of Paris at all hours like an enchanted lover who has lost all sense of time. And like a lover he transformed every familiar feature of his beloved into something strange and wondrous; instead of giving us Notre Dame's signature maternal domes for example, he delivered it's gothic spire (right); instead of Eiffel's spire, a skew perspective from within the tower yields something that resembles a fairground Big Wheel.
The climate of the Eighties, with its living-in-the fast-lane ethos and its predilection for stylised, slick, over-produced, market-led photography was inhospitable to Cartier-Bresson. The decade came and went without his being exhibited in London. But circles have a way of coming full and, says Francis Hodgson, managing director of Zwemmer Fine Photographs: 'People are now realising that Cartier-Bresson is the one to be reckoned with.'
Zwemmer's is showing a selection of Cartier-Bresson's Paris pictures to coincide with Thames & Hudson's publication of A propos de Paris (hardback, pounds 36) which presents 131 of Cartier-Bresson's favourite urban pictures spanning 50 years of magic. The grand old man of photography, now 86, must be delighted to find that his lack of contrivance and his appreciation of spontaneity and the ordinary can speak to the Nineties.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Zwemmer Fine Photographs, 28 Denmark St, WC2 to 2 July
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