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Wednesday, 18 August 2010


I saw the HCB show in NYC. That's a rare thing for me - getting out to see prints. Something I hope to do more. It was a bit overwhelming - so much to see and so many people to see past. But it deepened my appreciation for the photographer. As for the prints, I'm still in the "haven't seen enough good prints or had them pointed out to me to know what's good" camp, but I'm occasionally impressed by the quality of a print, and I can't say the prints at the exhibition, in and of themselves, did anything for me.

Now that you mention it, it was an odd show.

I was pleased to see many old friends as prints rather than halftones, but I ended up sort of bemused by the total. Early working prints, yes, that's interesting (truly!), but there were such gaps. What happened to India, for example?


That makes little sense as far as presentation, unless there was some kind of novel point to it all. And then still...

HCB foundation also authorized the horribling photobook (catalogue) of Henri Cartier-Bresson on Chinese Language issued in China in the early of 2010. : )


A poor printing Chinese book of Henri Cartier-Bresson issued in China and authorized from HCB Foundation.

What is happening for the photobook?
Try to buy the photobook, you will
like the one of poor HCB photobooks in the world.

I thought that HCB Foundation want to protect the brand of HCB, so we saw that the poor photobooks, show appeared in the world after the death of HCB. >.<

Thanks for an honest, critical appraisal of this show. Too often, exhibitions by big names like Cartier-Bresson get only the fawning "fan-boy" type of review. Despite your reservations, were I anywhere close to Chicago, I would still like to give this show a look. Knowing ahead of time that the show has some flaws would keep me from being too disappointed. That's what a good review should do.

OK, shooting in the dark here - but couldn't it be that it's the museum's subliminal way of putting across the message "These are the subjects on show for free, if you want to see them properly buy the book."
The fact that you mention the catalogue has better reproductions points me in this direction.

I had a similar experience a while back at the Robert Capa exhibition at the Barbican in London - small dingy prints.
I came away feeling that the show was neither here nor there; it was neither a show of images, because the prints were small and dull, nor an one of archival/historical materials, because there wasn't enough of that material on display and the materials that were shown weren't contextualized.
It was very interesting to see the heroic photojournalist myth making: old magazines featuring the work of the "worlds greatest photo journalist"; and to see how much the images were changed/manipulated when they appeared in print - eg. elements from two photos merged into one image.
It would have been interesting, given all of the discussion over the veracity of one of his photos, to have seen some of the exchanges between Capa and the publishers over the alterations they made to his photos - if there was any - but the magazines were just displayed without comment.
(The images looked better in these old magazines from the 30s than on the wall)

I assume it is the same show that was at MoMA in New York recently? I had a very mixed reaction to it when I saw it, part of which I put down to jet lag at the time. But on review I to found it surprising that a lot of the prints seemed. well. lacking.

I also felt the hang was very, very tight. There just wasn't space for the work to breath. n edit would have been good, but I can also understand the desire to get as much up as possible, something I am noticing more and more with shows these days. What is the hang like in Chicago?

As to your comment about the catalouge, yes, I would recommend it.

I saw the show in New York in June, and my impression of the show mirrors yours. There are too many photos to digest in one visit. I went with someone unfamiliar with HCB, and he was bored very quickly. The overall print quality was a major disappointment. However, I did very much enjoy seeing some of his later work, particularly the photo essay on the Great Leap Forward.

Which raises an interesting question: Should the name of the printer and a few sentences on *his* vision be included in an exhibit like this?

I suspect that in this show there were a great many "printers," including H.C.-B. himself (Ken says he sometimes printed his own work before WWII.)


Your comments on the quality of the prints mirror mine in a previous post referring to my experience seeing the exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

I have a copy of the old New York Graphic Society book from 1979 (can't believe I spent $50 back then!) and the reproductions in the book were much better than the exhibit.

I didn't bother laying down another chunk of cash for the museum exhibition catalog.

@ David Boyce: "What is the hang like in Chicago?" Fine here...how's by you? ;-)

(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

I did not see the show at MoMA but colleagues who did (including the representatives of FHCB) remarked that the show has much more breathing room here. The pieces are not crowded. The folks who did our (AIC) installation took time and extraordinary care to organize the experience very thoughtfully.

For those who visited our recent Matisse show, this exhibition is set in exactly the same gallery suite as the Matisse. In fact, we sent the Matisse show to MoMA and they sent us Cartier-Bresson. Trucks that pass in the night.

So it hangs coo'.

Know about the issue re printing from my own experience. I was once asked to put some of my photos into an exhibit--the people making the request took total control of the printing, etc, however.

The results were very disappointing. Pictures were way too contrasty (all B&W), and looked really harsh--all dead blacks and glaring whites. Final insult was that I had to pay for all this bad work...

I'll second what Ken said about the "hang" (an expression I've never heard before, BTW). The show is beautifully presented in Chicago. It really is a magnificent museum, a fact I appreciate all over again each time I visit.


For anyone living in or near Vancouver, Canada, there is a small show of HCB the West Vancouver Museum. The prints date mostly from the mid to late 40s, and while the show is small, it fantastically represents Cartier-Bresson's oeuvre. I'm made four visits already to spend time with the works in the intimate gallery; looking forward to at least two more visits before the show closes on August 28.

More info: http://westvancouvermuseum.ca/


fowardthinkingmuseum.com does present web only photographic exhibits.

For me the online viewing experience pales compared to a museum or gallery visit but FTM does attempt to curate and promote their exhibits like a physical space would. So I think they're on the right track at least.


I had a chance to see a Cartier-Bresson show in April '09 at Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris. The Maison is a must see for any photographer stopping in Paris, BTW - I saw a fine show of Larry Clark's 'Tulsa' there the previous year.

In any case, those were all excellent prints, quite possibly all Mitrovic prints and there were also showings of short films of the Spanish civil war shot by Cartier-Bresson.

I'm looking forward to seeing the HCB show when it comes to the San Francisco MOMA later this year. Went to see 'New Topographics' there a couple of weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I visited Chicgo last weekend for a 4 day weekend with my wife, brother and sister-in-law (photographic civilians). Saw the H C-B exhibit - nice, but everyone was kind of under-whelmed. Then we all went literally across the street to the Chicago Cultural Center to see the W. Eugene Smith Jazz Loft Project exhibit and were blown away. Kick butt exhibit.

Thanks for this "review". I don't think I'll be spending the money to drive down to Chicago. Sigh. I suppose I owe you the money though. Sigh, again.

Mike, OT, but one of my favorite paintings for many years is the "St. George ..." by Martorell at the Art Institute. Well worth looking up, if for no other reason than to see what a 15th. c. painter can do when he quietly throws his entire repertoire at you.

Very much in the spiirt of the "printing" posts.


Interesting, so "hang" is not used in North America to describe the way an exhibition is organised? It's the commonplace expression in my area of the world. A good reminder on the many variations of English and regional idiomatic speech.

What is the appropriate word in North America, installation?

This revamps the debate about which is (or should be) the specific final medium of a photograph. Let apart any thoughts about most curator's attitude, that is too often self-referential and too often forgets that a show intended for the public should be a show in the first place rather than a lesson (schools are there for this purpose), I can't help musing about what seems to be the same issue in music reproduction: vintage vs. remastered, vinyl vs. digital, etc.
What can't be overlooked is that art, like any form of communication, is based on the encounter of the medium and the viewer, and viewer's expectations (in terms of perception, habits, culture, home technology, etc.) continuously evolve . If the viewer changes, the photograph changes as well. Nothing remains the same, ever.
The same old piece of silver bromide paper can be considered a piece of visual art or the historic document of a visual artwork, depending on circumstances.

I found the selection of prints a bit underwhelming as well.

The travels room decorated with wall-to-wall details of his travels in chronological order was priceless. I was stunned. An energetic man, and a brave one, indeed.

Another gem from the exhibit for me were the selection of images of China, especially given the context China represents today.

Overall, the experience was worth the 2.5 hr. drive.

Then the question becomes where did AIC obtain the prints? This spring I was asked to go to Sotheby's and Christie's to evaluate HCB prints up for auction. As with the AIC show, they varied widely in quality. A few were obviously damaged and 'restored'. I believed all were signed. Perhaps, this is the material that is has come and is coming on the market with the prime examples safely tucked away in collections.

Couldn't it be that the prints shown in the exhibit are soft because HCB liked them that way ? In the afterword of "The Decisive Moment", Simon (of Simon and Schuster) wrote "[the US printers] ... were amazed at the softness of quality Cartier-Bresson insisted on in his prints; but when they saw the final, mounted prints on the walls of New York's Museum of Modern Art, they knew that he was right."

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