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Book Review: An Inner Silence.

Book review

Title: An Inner Silence: The Portraits of Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Authors:  Forward by Agnes Sire. Introduction by Jean-Luc-Nancy.

Publisher: Thames and Hudson. 181A High Holborn. London WC1V 7QX.

ISBN: 0-500-54317-8.

The book draws images from the  permanent holdings of the Collection of the Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson.

The book generously features 97 tritone reproductions of Cartier-Bresson’s works.

“The true portrait, (is) one in which the subject represented is not caught in any action, and does not even show any expression that might detract from the person themselves…”

…writes Agnes Sire the curator.

That clear phrase captures the essence of Cartier-Bresson’s portraiture. There is a naturalness to the images together with a deceptive ease.

The images are not contrived, neither does the sitter fill the frame. No, the subjects are generally in their own apartments, galleries, studios etc, which become part of the image; frames them if you like, and so becomes as much of the portrait as the sitter.

I don’t know if the sitters were posed and directed. I suspect not. They may well have been placed against a chosen background but that’s about as far as artifice seems to stretch. 

I’ve mentioned the naturalness before but it’s worth the repetition. It’s as though the images have been made during a lull in the conversation or at a moment of private reverie. Compare them, for example, to contrived and posed studio work of the great and good by Karsh of Ottowa. Wonderfully lit and super sharp, but in spite of that there is something missing. Some ‘je ne sais quoi’ which is evident in Cartier-Bresson’s portraits

Famously Cartier-Bresson was a 35mm Leica user, usually hand held, and that is sometimes evident in the lack of sharpness in some images; though he equally famously said “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept” by way of explanation I suppose.

The images appear to have been shot in available light, that and the non-central positioning of the main subject in the frame, sometimes awkwardly, enhances the naturalness of the images.

Well worth adding to your library I would say.

Reading under lockdown.
Lincoln UK
Late April 2020

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