Hyères, 1932

“I am a visual man.
I watch, watch, watch.
I understand things through my eyes.”

– Henri Cartier-Bresson
Life, 15 March 1963

As I have noted before, I am one that is absolutely comfortable with wandering about on my own and cruising about the odd gallery or two – knowing this, and at the insistence of my gravelly-voiced boss, I decided to go and have a look-see of this exhibition – HENRI CATRIER-BRESSON: The man, the image & the world (27 August -27 November 2011). Before entering; I have to completely honest; I had no idea who Henri Cartier-Bresson actually was. It turns out that Cartier-Bresson is responsible for some of the most iconic photographic images of portraiture and photojournalism of all time – and many of his photographs have become defining records of modern history.

“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It is at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes great physical and intellectual joy.”

– Henri Cartier-Bresson

Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, 1932

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photography came to define the 20th century – and you can see in all of his works, his amazing understanding of light, composition and timing. And timing is certainly the key – it was well noted that Cartier-Bresson would often wait for a precise time when a person moved through the frame to capture what he termed “the decisive moment” – an instant in which all the elements of the picture came together for the maximum emotional impact. A kind of photographic kairos (Greek: “opportune moment”) in which there is a formal balance and at the same time a revelation, or epiphany, at the essence of things.

“I never try to take great photographs. Great photographs are offered to me. You have to be available to catch them, be there, not think to hard, forget yourself, not force it, but use tour senses, your intuition, your eye. There’s no secret; there’s no more to it than that.”

– Henri Cartier-Bresson

Roman Amphitheatre, Valencia, 1933

A free-lancer throughout his working life, Cartier-Bresson revolutionised and somewhat single-handedly remodelled photojournalism – covering world-shaping events such as the impact of Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi’s assassination, life in the Soviet Union through the 1950’s and the collapse of Imperial China.

What impressed me the most was his ability to capture amazing shots with what would have been considered as a “compact” camera of the time – a Leica 35mm rangefinder camera equipped with a normal 50mm lens. This camera enabled him to photograph people without being too intrusive. His love of capturing images without being disruptive rings true with me – as I too enjoy taking photos of people in their natural state – as voyeuristic as that seems – I always find that posed photos seem fake and that people tend to act differently when they realise that a camera is pointing at them.

“The photographic shot is one of my ways of making sketches.”

– Henri Cartier-Bresson

His photographs certainly evoke emotion and interest – they made me want to step in closer to have a more intimate instance with the image in front of me. I found myself entranced by the photographs in this display – spending elongated moments poring over every inch of the photograph. I found myself becoming jealous of his travels – his extensive exposure to some of the most significant historical events of the 20th century, and his ability to capture minute fractals of time on film.

“To me the Leica is a sketchbook, a psychiatrist’s couch, a deep warm kiss, an electromagnet, a memory, the mirror of memory.”

– Henri Cartier-Bresson, Interview with the Brazilian newspaper Manchete, 6 March 1969.

He also suddenly makes me want to buy a Leica.

The display at the Brisbane Gallery of Art was surprisingly comprehensive (showcasing over 260 of Cartier-Bresson’s photographs) and incredibly educational – in fact, if I had know earlier, I would of downloaded the accompanying educational pdf to assist me in my wanderings. If you don’t want to pay the door price, there is also a very informative foyer-like area next to the exhibit where you can read up on a myriad of books, view a smaller display of photography and watch a handful of documentaries that the Queensland Art Gallery procured specifically for the exhibition. Costing a sweet $12 for adult entry, this show, very unfortunately , closes it’s doors on the 27th of November – which means, if you’re in Brisbane, GO DO IT NOW, OR FOREVER BE UNENLIGHTENED.


  • Adult $12
  • Concession $10
  • Members $9 (Discount available to Gallery and Foundation Members)
  • Secondary students $6
  • Children (12 years & under): FREE
  • Family (1–2 Adults & Children aged 13–17): $30
  • Season adult $36
  • Season concession $30
  • Season member $27 (Discount available to Gallery and Foundation Members)

Queensland Art Gallery

  • Tickets are available from the exhibition entry. Please note the ticket desk closes at 4pm daily.

All programs and events associated with the ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson’ exhibition are free with exhibition entry unless otherwise stated.



  1. Becca says:

    The vancouver art gallery has donation night on Tuesdays so I would usually go then xD I think we have some surrealism pieces showing right now.. Although I don’t know how ready I am to jump back into fine arts.. it still reminds me of my undergrad and I don’t know if I want to feel nostalgic about that yet hahaha

  2. i love how his work was so playful for the time, we reason to ourselves that people back in the day only worked to live and didnt have fun, but people were fun like we are now!! haha, what a cool event, YOU GO TO THE COOLEST EVENTS…LETS B FRIENDS

  3. Wow! This sounds like an amazing exhibition!

    I love wondering around your own city, there’s really so much to discover. However if you love museums and art Vienna is the place.. you will never be lacking of exhibitions. However there’s Paris too I suppose but I haven’t been to Paris :p

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