As working artists in the last half of the twentieth century, we are all acutely aware of the link between art and the camera. Photographers have long deemed their best work to be art, and many painters have long embraced the product of their own cameras, or those of others, as an integral step in their seeing and producing their own form of pigmented art. One of the most interesting artists with a camera alive today lives in a spacious apartment overlooking the Tuileries in Paris. He's 91 years old now and hasn't worked as a professional photographer in twenty years. In fact he seldom takes pictures of any kind anymore. Instead, he sits at the window of his apartment and draws the scene below--the Paris street, the Louvre, and the Musee d'Orsay. The scene is not new. Over a century ago, Monet and Pissaro shared the apartment below his and both painted their impression of it. Today, Henri Cartier-Bresson is an artist with a pencil, his eye, his camera, his lively, yet disciplined hand recording the image on his ever-present sketch pad.
Cartier-Bresson came from a wealthy textile family so financially conservative that once, while on a big-game safari in Africa, when he got sick, his father ordered him to come back to Paris immediately lest they have to pay the exorbitant cost of shipping his body home. He claims to have been cured by the friendly, local witch doctor. The man is an interesting bundle of contrasts. His most famous work, a book of his photos entitled "The Decisive Moment," catalogs a hectic life traveling all over Europe and Asia covering news stories, yet his work has such an artistic edge the event itself is quickly forgotten. Describing himself as a turbulent Buddhist, he loves all things Chinese yet has visited the country only once. His photos have a surrealist quality yet he was at best only a peripheral figure in the 1930s movement. An intimate friend of the French painter, Pierre Bonnard, he also was close to Picasso, who detested Bonnard.
As a convert from the film image to that of the pencil, Henri Cartier-Bresson is acutely aware of masses and shapes, but in his drawings, he seems to prefer the line as his favorite mode of expression. He claims to be an impostor, his drawings only of interest to collectors because he was once a famous photographer. Yet there is much of Bonnard in his work, also the influence of poets, like D'Annunzio, James Joyce, and Rimbaud, from whom he developed a wanderlust, which served him well as a photojournalist. His most noticeable influence, however, seems to be Matisse, despite the fact he never works in color. But it is the artists from the last century he loves most, Chardin, Ingres, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Renoir. It is from them, he says, that he learns.