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Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour

In Pictures is a still and moving image gallery for significant works, events and places

Harry Gruyaert, Belgium, Flanders region, Province of Brabant, 1988
Harry Gruyaert, Belgium, Flanders region, Province of Brabant, 1988 © Harry Gruyaert

As one of the most important photographers of the 20th century, Henri Cartier-Bresson was well-known for championing the notion of ‘the decisive moment’, capturing something in the very moment that it happens...

One of the most important photographers of the 20th century, Henri Cartier-Bresson was well-known for championing the notion of ‘the decisive moment’, capturing something in the very moment that it happens. This exhibition, curated by William A. Ewing, photography expert and ex-director of the Musee de l’Elysee, and presented by Positive View Foundation, attempts to place Cartier-Bresson within the context of the development of colour photography during the 20th century.

The exhibition uses as its starting point 10 black and white photographs by Cartier-Bresson that have never before been exhibited in the UK. Alongside these works are over 75 colour photographs, created by 15 contemporary photographers from Europe and the US, including Ernst Haas, Harry Gruyaert and Jeff Mermelstein, all of whom have been selected for their commitment to the medium of colour photography. Through the juxtaposition of these colour photographs alongside the black and white works by Cartier-Bresson’s, viewers are invited to explore the way in which these photographers adopted and adapted Cartier-Bresson’s ethos.

"Cartier-Bresson was renowned for his disparaging attitude towards the technique of colour photography, which was due, in part, to the technical and aesthetic limitations of the medium at the time."

In the early stages of the development of colour photography in the 1950s, Cartier-Bresson was renowned for his disparaging attitude towards the technique, which was due, in part, to the technical and aesthetic limitations of the medium at the time. However despite his negative attitude, the exhibition purports that Cartier-Bresson still had a powerful influence over the way in which photographers after him deployed the medium. In effect, as Ewing claims, his criticisms inspired what has been deemed ‘a new generation’, which includes the 15 photographers on show, who were determined to prove him wrong.

Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour is at Somerset House until 27 January 2013.

Text by Siobhan Andrews

Siobhan Andrews is a London-based writer, specialising in music and the visual arts. She is co-founder of the creative consultancy Daydreaming Projects, and co-curator of the biennial exhibition Daydreaming with...

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