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Henri Cartier-Bresson

A Biography

Pierre Assouline

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The definitive biography of the greatest photographer of modern times


The twentieth century was that of the image, and the legendary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, born in 1908, was the eye of the century. His life story and the interpretation of his work reveal first and foremost the history of a vision.

As he traversed the century, his eclectic eye focused on the fascination of Africa in the 1920s, the tragic fate of the Spanish Republicans, the Liberation of Paris, the weariness of Gandhi a few hours before his assassination, and the victory of the Chinese communists.

Cartier-Bresson was always on the spot, the great opportunist, seizing life's historic events as they happened.

He was also assistant to Jean Renoir on three major films. He was an artist who wanted to be an artisan, and he was one of the founders of Magnum, the most famous of all photographers’ agencies. It was he who fixed forever the features of famous contemporaries: Mauriac mysteriously levitating; Giacometti and Sartre as characters from their own works; Faulkner, Camus and countless others, their portraits captured for eternity at the decisive moment

An intensely private individual, Cartier-Bresson nonetheless took Pierre Assouline into his confidence over a number of years, discussing such subjects as his youthful devotion to surrealism, his lifelong passion for drawing, his experience of war, his friends and the women in his life. He even opened up his invaluable archives. This sensitive biography is the result of the meeting of two minds, revealed in much the same way and with the same truth as one of Cartier-Bresson's outstanding, inimitable photographs.

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'There is no better book to help readers to understand his motivation and fascination for documenting the world, individuals and historic individuals on film'
The Times

'Cartier-Bresson’s life sweeps by with a vitality that wouldn’t be out of place in one of his photographs'
Royal Photographic Society Journal

Product Information

Book Details

Format: Paperback with flaps

Size: 23.5 x 15.5 cm

Extent: 280 pp

Illustrations: 25

Publication date: 28 August 2012

ISBN: 9780500290521

Contents List

Introduction • 1. Family Threads: 1908–27 • 2. The Decisive Moments 1927–31 • 3. The Artist in Search of His Medium 1932–35 • 4. The End of the Old World 1936–39 • 5. Nationality: Escapee 1939–46 • 6. From New York to New Delhi 1946–50 • 7. The World is His Studio 1950–70 • 8. Towards Another Life 1970–2004

About the Author

Pierre Assouline has published several biographies of cultural figures, among them Georges Simenon and Hergé. He is also editor-in-chief of Lire Magazine in Paris.