If you haven’t seen the retrospective of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photographs at the High Museum (Atlanta), you must go. Now. This touring retrospective, which originated at the Museum of Modern Art, runs in Atlanta until May 29.
This is the most impressive museum exhibit of any kind that I have seen in the past few years, and one of the most impressive that I have ever seen, period. During his very long life (1908-2004) Cartier-Bresson visited practically every country on the planet, some of them more than once. His works range from Surrealist-influenced work during the Thirties to photojournalism and portraits. What I found amazing is that using mainly a single kind of camera–a Leica with a 50mm lens–and almost exclusively black-and-white film, he demonstrated as much artistic range as a great painter. He also had a rare gift for capturing life as a series of spontaneous but expressive moments, his subjects seemingly oblivous of his presence. Exhibit highlights include the photo-essays on the daily operations American bank (depressingly familiar today) and the Great Leap Forward in China; photos taken during two separate trips to the Soviet Union; the Mexican photos; the celebrity portraits. I was so overwhelmed by almost every image that I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. Another aspect which I found fascinating was observing how photographic paper and printing styles changed over the years.
Plan to spend at least four hours for the entire exhibit, or break it up over two days. You won’t regret it. I’d like to go back for a second viewing.