History of Photography

History of Photography

A World History of Photography

The Story Behind the Pictures 1827-1991

Photographers' Dictionary






1   Nicephore Niepce. View from the Study Window, 1827

2   Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre. Boulevard du Temple, 1838

3   Eugene Durieu/Eugene Delacroix. Nude from Behind, ca. 1853

4   Duchenne de Boulogne. Contractions musculaires, 1856

5   Auguste Rosalie Bisson. The Ascent of Mont Blanc, 1862

6   Nadar. Sarah Bernhardt, ca. 1864

7   Francois Aubert. Emperor Maximilian's Shirt, 1867

8   Andre Adolphe Eugene Disderi. Dead Communards, 1871

9   Maurice Guibert. Toulouse-Lautrec in His Studio, ca. 1894

10 Max Priester/Willy Wilcke. Bismarck on his Deathbed, 1898

11 Heinrich Zille. The Wood Gatherers, 1898

12 Alfred Stieglitz. The Steerage, 1907

13 Lewis Hine. Girl Worker in a Carolina Cotton Mill, 1908

14 August Sander. Young Farmers, 1914

15 Paul Strand. Blind Woman, 1916

16 Man Ray. Noire et blanche, 1926

17 Andre Kertesz. Meudon, 1928

18 Robert Capa. Spanish Loyalist, 1936

19 Dorothea Lange. Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936

20 Horst P. Horst. Mainbocher Corset, 1939

21 Henri Cartier-Bresson. Germany, 1945

22 Richard Petersen. View from the Dresden City Hall Tower, 1945

23 Robert Doisneau. The Kiss in Front of City Hall, 1950

24 Dennis Stock. James Dean on Times Square, 1955

25 Bert Stern. Marilyn's Last Sitting, 1962

26 Gerard Malanga. Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, 1966

27 Helmut Newton. They're Coming!, 1981

28 Sandy Skoglund. Revenge of the Goldfish, 1981

29 Robert Mapplethorpe. Lisa Lyon, 1982

30 Joel-Peter Witkin. Un Santo Oscuro, 1987

31 Sebastiao Salgado. Kuwait, 1991


see also:


Chapter 21



Henri Cartier-Bresson


Germany, 1945

Hour of Truth

Dessau, Germany, shortly after the end of the Second World War. In a camp for so-called displaced persons, a Nazi victim suddenly recognizes a former Gestapo informant. The young Henri Cartier-Bresson was on the spot and took a photograph that became an icon of liberation and a symbol for the end of the Nazi terror.


In the end, he allowed himself to be persuaded. He knew that he was not especially good at writing, nor was he by any means a theoretician. His background was rather in drawing, painting. Throughout his life he insist-ed that he was a painter, that he had learned from painting, and that he saw with the eyes of a painter. He felt a strong connection to Surrealism - but only as a visually oriented person, not as a formulator of theorems and programs. In the end, however, succumbing to the pressure of his Creek publisher Teriade, he sat himself at his desk and "in five or six days" wrote it all down. "I had it already in my head from the beginning, says Henri-Cartier-Bresson, whose first great book, which also functioned as a photographic summary of decades of work, was titled thematically Images a la Sauvette, (literally: pictures in passing). The comparatively large volume of approximately 12 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches, bearing a drawing by Henri Matisse on the cover, appeared in 1952 in the Editions Verve of the legendary publisher Teriade. It would be no exaggeration to claim that it became one of the most significant and influential photographic works of the twentieth century - even if it had to wait for the English edition to unify Cartier-Bresson's work conceptually under an appropriated title: The Decisive Moment. The formula stood as a perfectly tailored banner over Cartier-Bresson's introduction that, as stressed by Wolfgang Kemp, "like no other text became the basis of an engaged photojournalism." It should be noted, however, that the title was originally drawn from a quo tation by Cardinal von Retz; the American publisher Dick Simon adopted the slogan for the English edition, and thus introduced the phrase into photographic theory and camera practice.

Henri Cartier-Bresson
(1908 – 2004)
Gestapo Informer, Dessau, Germany, 1945


Brilliant slices extracted from the stream of time

Henri Cartier-Bresson - this "giant in the history of photography" (Klaus Honnef); "Cod the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" (Roger Therond); the "greatest photographer of modernity" (Pieyre de Mandiargues); and "model for all later Leica photographers" (Peter Galassi) - was a master at intuiting critical moments. After the publication of Images a la Sauvette, or The Decisive Moment, critics have repeatedly described his work as brilliant slices extracted from the stream of time. Typically, Cartier-Bresson's photographs epitomize an event or happening just before it disintegrates or dissolves back into the flow of everyday life in a matter of seconds or split seconds. As a result, his work acquires something of a visionary, even prophetic, character. Yves Bonnefoy, for example, terms Cartier's photograph Place de I'En rope In the Rain (1932) nothing less than a miracle: "How was he able to recognize the analogy between the man running across the plaza and the poster in the background so quickly, how could he compose a scene out of so many fleeting elements - a scene that is as perfect in detail as it is mysterious in its totality?" He just has the feelers for it - thus Henri Cartier-Bresson explains the astounding results of his photographic activity in his typical laconic manner, adding: "I love painting. As far as photography is concerned, I understand nothing."

The Decisive Moment: The English title of his book from 7952 was programmatic for Henri Cartier-Bresson's Euvre.
Despite this, he also frequently produced sequences with a certain cinematic quality when closing in on an event.


More a matter of style



Images a la Sauvette presents a total of 132 black-and-white photographs, with the introductory text mentioned above prefacing the plates. Although this statement was not the author's sole verbal commentary on his work, it nonetheless was, or became, his most important: in it, he presents a combination of programmatic discourse, reflection, and technical manual all in one. It is, in fact, a prescription for a 'photography in passing', and as such was adopted as a bible by legions of ambitious photographers directly after the publication of the book in the 1950s - and is still followed by photographers of today. Henri Cartier-Bresson, born in 1908 into a prosperous textile-manufacturing family in Chanteloup, France, studied with Andre Lhote. The purchase of his first Leica transformed him into an indefatigable chronicler of his times, and he is justly seen as one of the most influential and productive photographers of the twentieth century. Each of his published photographs appears to be an apparently effortless proof of his credo: "I like my pictures to be clear, or better, climactic... This is more a matter of style than technique." To conjure an event at its culmination point onto celluloid - this is the magic that his name still epitomizes today. Although Henri Cartier-Bresson did journalistic reports, published essays, and produced photographic sequences, he is above all the master of the single picture, in which a theater of the world presents itself in microcosm.

Germany, 1945 - Our picture's official short title, more or less authorized by Magnum - appears on pages 33-34 of Images a la Sauvette. The picture is therefore a double-spread, running across the gutter. Lincoln Kirstein and Beaumont Newhall had taken note of this work as early as 1947, including it both in the first large post-war exhibition of the photographer's works at the Museum of Modern Art and also it in the slim catalogue accompanying the show. The photograph has also appeared in almost all subsequent retrospective monographs, the most prominent probably being Cartier-Bresson's large interim collection of photographs published in 1979 by Delpire under the simple title Henri Cartier-Bresson photographe. Here the famous work was of course included, along with many other classics such as Rue Mouffetard, On the Marne, and Sevilla. The ubiquity of the photograph has doubtless contributed to turning it into one of his best-known works. Moreover, the picture numbers among those deemed worthy of fuller commentary by the photographer. Thus, on the reverse of the key picture bearing the archive number HCB45003 Woo115/25C, one finds the word: "Dessau. Border between American and Soviet zone. Transit camp for former prisoners held in eastern German area: political prisoners, prisoners of war, slave labor, displaced persons. A young Belgian woman and former Gestapo informer is recognized before she can hide herself in the crowd." Dessau, a middle-size city north of Leipzig in today's Saxon-Anhalt, which had made an international name for itself before the war as the home of the Bauhaus school. We do not know precisely when Cartier took the picture - the photographer himself never spoke willingly about his work -but the date must have been between 21 April and 2 July 1945 -that is,

between the American occupation of the city and the arrival of their Russian replacements. The location is the former anti-aircraft barrack in Des-sau-Kochstedt, which functioned as a transit camp during the occupation. The building, partially visible in the background, had been dedicated under the Nazis in 1937 and would later be used by the Soviets as a barrack until the unification in 1989; today the area is a housing development. On this spring day in 1945 the sky is cloudy, the light, diffuse. The sun breaks through only occasionally, casting long shadows that might indicate afternoon; more probably, however, it is morning. Cartier-Bresson in any case was carrying his Leica, fitted with a 50-mm lens. By deduction, this means he was standing about ten feet away from the protagonists - close enough to capture the event, but also far enough to do obeisance to his preferred policy of not interfering. "One must creep up to the subject on tip toes," he once said, "even when it involves a still life. One must put on velvet gloves and have Argus eyes. No pushing or crowding: an angler doesn't stir up the waters beforehand." At the time of the photograph, Cartier-Bresson was thirty-six years old with an international reputation as a photographer, though he certainly had not yet approached the cult status that he definitively achieved with the publication of Images a la Sauvette. Meanwhile, in the USA Kirstein and Newhall were preparing a "posthumous retrospective" for the photographer, presuming him to have been killed in the war - an assumption not at all far-fetched, when one recalls that Cartier-Bresson had been an active resistance fighter. Captured and interned by the Germans in 1940, he had escaped only on his third attempt three years later. At this point, in 1945, however, he was in fact working with the Americans on a film for the Information Service about the home-coming of French prisoners of war. "It was a film by prisoners about prisoners," as Cartier-Bresson recalled. "The scene played itself out before my eyes as my cameraman was filming it. I had my photography camera in my hand and released the shutter. The scene was not staged. Oddly, this picture doesn't turn up in the film."

A further (scarcely known) motif from the Dessau-Kochstet series dating from April through July


The setting for a scene that became famous

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Tete a Tete. Published in 2000. The book showcases the portraits of some of the greatest figures of the 20th century, such as Matisse, Sartre, Stravinsky, Picasso, and Sontag.

Cartier-Bresson's, The Decisive Moment, the 1952 US edition of Images ŕ la sauvette. The book contains the term "the decisive moment" now synonymous with Cartier-Bresson: "There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment."


This was not the first time that Cartier-Bresson conducted filming work and photographic work in parallel. One needs only to recall his famous picnic On the Marne, created while he was an assistant director to Jean Renoir [La vie est a nous, Une partie de campagne). But whereas On the Marne has nothing to do directly with the filming, in Dessau the photographer and his cameraman are shooting one and the same scene simultaneously, even if the film does not contain the 'most decisive' moment captured by Cartier-Bresson. Le Retour, as has been mentioned, was being made at the behest of the Office of War Information and the French Ministere des Prisonniers. The black-and-white film runs 32 minutes and 37 seconds, with a commentary in French spoken by Claude Roy in the original version includes. Le Retour opens with footage taken in Dachau in late April 1945 by the American troops who had liberated the concentration camp. Following these scenes are shots of freed prisoners, straggling soldiers, refugees wandering about in a daze - all of whom, according to the narrator, were causing chaos on the roads and hindering the sweep of an Allied victory. As a result, camps to contain these people were set up in occupied barracks, factories, and private houses. Cut. The film camera now does a long shot of a large interior courtyard that is about to become a stage of the scene made famous by Cartier-Bresson's photograph. We are looking at a crowd of several hundred people. In the center, a circular area has been cleared. In the background is the high gable roof of the former barrack, some of whose windows can also be made out in Cartier's photograph. To the lower right in the picture is the table to which - cut and medium close-up - a young woman wearing dark breeches, light-colored wool socks almost up to the knee, and flat shoes is led. She walks with a stoop. With a serious expression and hanging head, she steps up to the table at which the accusation against her - whatever it is - is about to be processed. The young man on the left with sunglasses and parted hair raises his finger and seems to give a warning. His name is Wilhelm Henry van der Velden, a twenty-two-year-old Netherlander, who had been studying medicine until he, like his brother Karel, was interned in February 1943 in the Dutch concentration camp Westerbork. Now, at the behest of the Americans, he has been appointed commandant of the camp at Dessau, through which thousands of people are making their way daily, from West to East or vice versa- Above all, explains the commentary accompanying the film, it is necessary to be keep a careful watch out "for that handful of vile beings who were attempting to disappear amid the flood of deportees - to return home to 'business as usual'." The woman in the high-buttoned dark dress, who assumes a central position in a double sense of the word in Cartier's picture, is still standing several yards away on the right edge of the picture. But - cut and quarter close-up - now she, a Frenchwoman, moves up to the table, her arms still folded across her chest, a light colored purse dangling down. The commentary speaks of denunciators, Gestapo stooges, torturers, who will surely be turned over by those whom they had earlier betrayed. Again cut. The camera has now closed in on the two women. The one on the right addresses the other, screams at her: Yes! You helped the Gestapo, you are an agent. She lifts her arm and strikes, hitting the other woman in the face so that the accused is literally thrown out of the picture. Seconds later she re-enters, arranges her hair, looks briefly and confusedly at her 'torturer', bleeding at the nose. The sequence lasts exactly three seconds in the film; Henry Cartier-Bresson's exposure may have lasted 1/6o of a second.

The decisive moment of revelation

Cartier-Bresson remembered the film correctly when he said that the scene he caught with his camera does not appear. Speculation as to whether his picture was therefore staged are quickly laid to rest, however, when one takes a closer look at the crowd of observers in the background. Consider for example the young man wearing his beret at a slant: in the film, his belt buckle is enclosed within his left hand - exactly in the same position that can be seen between the two women in Cartier-Bresson's photograph. A peripheral detail such as this would hardly find its way into a scene set up later. Why then did the film camera not capture the precise moment of identification? Chronologically, Cartier's photo-graph lies between the third and fourth scenes of the film. That is, the woman has not yet been identified as an agent, and the blow has not yet been struck, or she would be visibly bleeding from the nose in the photograph. Perhaps the critical moment fell victim to cutting and editing or, more likely, the cameraman - who must have been standing almost elbow-to-elbow with Cartier-Bresson -was changing the lens to capture what followed close-up. In any case, the cameraman caught the sub-sequent activity on film; Cartier-Bresson, however, got the more truly 'decisive moment': that of revelation, of identification, of the instant in which past, present, and future - the memory of sorrow, and painful recognition, and furious response - come together. The distorted face of the former victim, now become a perpetrator, mirrors the tension of the tense situation.

For a long time afterward, Henri Cartier-Bresson reported, he received questions and letters containing a cut-out of the photograph, with a cross over one or another of the persons in the background together with the plea: "That is my brother, that is my father - please tell us where he is now! How can we find him?" Let us look at the facts: at least ten million foreign prisoners, foreign workers, and deportees were wandering through Germany as 'displaced persons' in the years following 1945. Thus the photograph also assumed a thoroughly pragmatic function in the decades following 1945. Artistically, the picture has survived because of its "emblematic value," as Jean-Pierre Montier has expressed it. In the face of historical fact - after all, there was no concentration camp in Dessau itself- Cartier-Bresson's photograph came to function as a symbol of the liberation: in our collective pictorial memory it has come to stand for the opening of the concentration camps and liberation from terror.




Henri Cartier-Bresson

(August 22, 1908 – August 3, 2004) was a French photographer considered to be the father of modern photojournalism, an early adopter of 35 mm format, and the master of candid photography. He helped develop the "street photography" style that has influenced generations of photographers that followed.


On the Banks of the Marne, 1938


Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, 1932


Ile de la Cite, 1952


Arizona, 1947

Srinagar, Kashmir, 1948


Henri Matisse, 1944


Quai de Javel (Ragpickers), Paris, 1932


Madrid, 1933


Ahmedabad, India (drying madras), 1965


Roman Amphitheatre, Valencia, 1933


Volcano of Popocatepetl, Mexico, 1964


Taxi Drivers, Berlin, 1932


Untitled, 1958


Taos, New Mexico, USA, 1947


Last Days of the Kuomintang, Shanghai, 1949


Alicante, Spain, 1932


Barrio Chino, Barcelona, Spain, 1933


The Berlin Wall, 1963


Russian Child Released from Concentration Camp, Dessau, Germany, 1945


Cell in a Model Prison in the U.S.A., 1975






India- Images


India- Images


India- Images


La banquette d’en face, Roumanie, 1975


The Curragh, Dublin, 1962


Mexico City, 1934


Bruxelles, 1932


Hyeres, 1932


Derniers jours du Kuomintang, Pékin, Chine, 1948


Dieppe, 1926


Down Town, New York, 1947


Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 1954


Boulevard Diderot, Paris, 1968

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