Cartier-Bresson: A “decisive moment” for photography in Bogotá

As part of Colombia – France Year 2017, the Museum of Art Miguel Urrutia (MAMU) of the Banco de la República is presenting the work of renowned French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson in a temporary exhibition that will run from May 13 to August 28. The general public is invited to enjoy 133 stunning pieces that form Cartier-Bresson’s first ever retrospective in this country.

Born 1908, when the last Impressionists were putting daubs of paint on canvas, the aspiring French photographer was a pioneer of democratizing the photographic process with the introduction of Leica’s first portable 35-millimeter hand-held camera. His capacity to capture split-second events pioneered the so-called “decisive moment”, which would go on inspire generations of photographers to take to the streets, cover wars, and pursue successful careers as photojournalists with influential publications such as Life, Time, National Geographic.

From capturing unobtrusive daily life moments in his native France to his humane documentation of the Spanish Civil War, Cartier-Bresson is visual storytelling at its most refined. Thematically arranged by continents, the MAMU’s comprehensive exhibition displays a set of emblematic images from his career, including the grainy, unsentimental “puddle jumper” of Paris’ St.-Lazare railway station, which became the first of many Images à la Sauvette – or Images on the Run – those “decisive moments” that exist around us, yet elude the most-trained photographers.

In 1947, Cartier-Bresson, along with war photographer Robert Capa, George Rodger and David “Chim” Seymour created the world’s first photo agency, Magnum.

Fuelled by a desire to be at the heart of current events, Cartier-Bresson recorded some of the most important historical moments of the late 20th Century, including the victory of Mao Zedong in China and Gandhi’s funeral. Perhaps his most iconic work, however, is the inherently humanitarian images he captured during his early days as a photographer.

No territory was off-limits for Cartier-Bresson, even if the subject matter was documenting the brothels and underbelly of Mexican society. There is always dignity in his images. Even portraits of the enfants terribles of the times (Ezra Pound, Truman Capote, Colette, Jean Paul Sartre) are endearing. The retropective of Cartier-Bresson offers a deep insight into the way the world once was.

Widely considered “a photographer around the world”, Cartier-Bresson covered almost every continent with his inconspicuous Leica and visitors can experience the evolution of his work by walking through the different sections of the exhibition.

In order to keep his images natural, Cartier-Bresson opted for a camera that was light and easy to carry, making it possible to capture images that are totally spontaneous and meticulously composed.

Cartier-Bresson was able to photograph while being virtually unseen and was for this reason regarded as a pioneer of photojournalism. He also refused to alter any of his images and artfully framed his photographs himself, combining art and visual documentation.

The exhibition contributes to the effort being made to promote photographic expression in Colombia, and is also a chance for many emerging photographers and artists to bear witness to a comprehensive body of work of a canonical figure of the 20th century who elevated humanity’s decisive moments to an art form.

Museo de Arte Miguel Urrutia Banco de la República

Calle 11 No.4-41. Admission is free