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Heinz Bütler interviews Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) late in life. Cartier-Bresson pulls out photographs, comments briefly, and holds them up to Bütler's camera. A few others share observations, including Isabelle Huppert, Arthur Miller, and Josef Koudelka. Cartier-Bresson talks about his travels, including Mexico in the 1930s, imprisonment during World War II, being with Gandhi moments before his assassination, and returning to sketching late in life. He shows us examples. He talks about becoming and being a photographer, about composition, and about some of his secrets to capture the moment. Written by
Henri Cartier Bresson is to photography what Welles is to film. The name mentioned most when debating the best in his field. The length and breadth of his career, the ground he covered, the famous leaders he met, the artists he called friends the historical events he witnessed and the images he captured made for an epic life.
Filmed shortly before his death at 96 Bresson is in fine spirit and energy for someone 94 as he recalls his career holding in his hands many of the masterpieces that he is famous for. He explains a few but mostly allows the images to speak for themselves, adding little more than a smile which seems sufficient to sum up his pleasure at his work. Most of his photography does what it is supposed to do - express itself within its framing (Bresson never cropped). Still, as an ardent admirer I must admit to wishing HCB was of sharper age and memory to discuss in more detail some of the most stunning and dramatic images of the Twentieth Century that he is responsible for. This is balanced however with interviews of other highly regarded photographers such as Elliot Erwitt, Joseph Koudelka and other artists like playwright Arthur Miller and actress Isabel Huppert who show a profound respect for Bresson.
Considering how elusive he was (he avoided being photographed) with the media, I'm glad this testament of the great 20th Century artist is available. My only complaint is that I wish it was recorded at a time when Bresson was a touch more lucid. In turn this would have diluted the most moving moment in the documentary when an unsteady Bresson sits on a Paris rooftop and looks out at the city that he utilized so well as a studio. He says little but you know in whatever vicinity he casts his gaze (Montparnesse, Monmarte, the Seine, Gare St.Lazare) there is more than likely a monochromatic memory that he has already shared with the world. I avoid labeling artists "the greatest" because there are too many issues to argue and too much labor involved in "proving it" but if I were to start with someone HCB would be on that shortlist.
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