Monday, May 31, 2010

Still Life

These are unforgivably poor representations of prints by Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French photojournlist whose works are now on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. I saw the show last Friday evening with my daughter and one of her friends. They had an assignment for photography class to attend the show and choose two photographs to deconstruct, so I happily went with them.

The top print isn't in the show. The bottom print is, and among all the extraordinary images hung on the gallery walls, it stopped me cold. I couldn't move on from it. The composition is so perfect, the boy with his arm raised about to throw something in the background providing an active counterpoint to the focused stillness of the other boys; the one in the foreground, arms graciously extended, feet placed almost like a ballet dancer's amid the ruins; and the boy in the lower right, framed by a rag of white wall, seeming almost to have wandered into the frame.

I was subsequently fascinated to find the top photo online. It told me beyond a shadow of doubt that Cartier-Bresson set up the bottom image, composed it like a piece of living art, after happening upon the rambunctious group of boys inside that broken arch of wall. I love both photos. For me, they reinforce one another and reveal the full art and artifice of the man, his ability to capture both the roiling chaos of life, and then arrange it into a quieter tableau, almost a still life, allowing us to examine the scene in another way.

If you're going to be in the New York area, go see the show. These poor reproductions, probably copied from a book, don't do the work justice at all.

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