Monday, January 16, 2006

Photographer With a Knack for Finding the Moment

By STEPHEN HOLDEN @ New York Times

"Taking pictures means holding your breath with all your faculties concentrated on capturing a fleeting reality," declares the pioneering photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson near the end of Heinz Butler's austere documentary portrait, "Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye."

In the small but stately film, completed a year before Cartier-Bresson's death at 95 in August 2004, he slowly leafs through volumes of his black-and-white photographs, shows some of his later drawings and muses on his art to the severe, prickly strains of Bach piano music. Even when viewed secondhand in a movie, these photographs are something to see. Their formal elegance is balanced by an intense, pulsing humanity. In all his photographs, Cartier-Bresson says, "geometry is the foundation."

The documentary, which subscribes to the Great Man school of reverential portraiture, is not a biography but an interview (in French, simultaneously translated into English) conceived as a master class on art appreciation, with guest commentators augmenting Cartier-Bresson's own sparsely chosen words.

A recurrent presence is the French actress Isabelle Huppert, who points to a portrait he took of her and says that it reveals a side of her personality she had never seen before. His pictures, she says, capture the "deep, mysterious bond between people and the things around them." But since the pictures speak so eloquently for themselves, her words are redundant.


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