Photographers Everywhere Rejoice as “The Decisive Moment” Returns to Bookstores
Photo: Sunday on the banks of the Marne, 1938.
“To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression,” French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004) wrote in the foreword to his seminal monograph The Decisive Moment (originally titled Images à la Sauvette).
First published in 1952 by Simon and Schuster, New York, in collaboration with Editions Verve, Paris, The Decisive Moment was lavishly embellished with a collage cover by Henri Matisse and has influenced generations of photographer around the world since it came into being. For 62 years, it was out-of-print, until German publisher Steidl reprinted a facsimile edition of the book, which comes in a slipcase along with an additional booklet containing an essay on the history of The Decisive Moment by Centre Pompidou curator Clément Chéroux.
Renowned as a master of humanity photography, Cartier-Bresson began shooting in 1931 after seeing Martin Munkacsi’s iconic photo, “Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika.” As he explained, “I suddenly understood that a photograph could fix eternity in an instant,” and with this knowledge, he set upon a career that would span over seven decades. Cartier-Bresson understood, “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment,” and applied this wisdom to his photography.
As he reveals in the book, “I believe that, through the act of living, the discover of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us which can mold us , but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between these two worlds—the one inside us and the one outside us. As a result of this reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is in this world we must communicate.”
And communicate he does, with gusto and grace, with a joy for living and a great regard for the human race. The photographs of Cartier-Bresson are a study of faith, a belief in the beauty that belies the very nature of existence. It is not merely a matter of the repetition of classic archetypes, but rather a transcendent approach to the discovery of beauty in every day life. There is a poignancy in every frame, one that neither heroicizes nor romanticizes but simply observes with an open heart and mind.
As he writes, “The camera enables us to keep a sort of visual chronicle. For me, it is my diary.” The Decisive Moment, then, is a story of the self as much as it is of the world, for every photograph is speaks to the soul of the artist and his way of looking at the world. And what pervades on every page of the book is a profound sense of love, a deep feeling of reverence, and incredible feeling of respect that makes The Decisive Moment one of the most remarkable monographs to ever exist.
All photos: From The Decisive Moment, © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, courtesy of Steidl.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.