The Modern Century, the first major retrospective in the U.S. in more than 30 years of one of photography’s most original and influential masters, from April 11 through June 28, 2010. The exhibition comprises 300 photographs dating from 1929 to 1989, at least one fifth of them previously unknown to the public, and focuses on the photographer’s most productive decades, the 1930s through the 1960s. Also included is a generous selection of original issues of Life, Paris Match, and other magazines in which many of the photographs first appeared. Cartier-Bresson’s uncanny talent for seizing lasting images from the flux of experience, long identified with the title of his book The Decisive Moment (1952), made him a leading figure both in photography’s experimental modernism of the 1930s and the very different realm of photojournalism after World War II. Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century offers a fresh overview of that complex achievement by drawing upon a great deal of previously inaccessible information and images from the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation in Paris, which was established in 2002, two years before the photographer’s death at the age of 95, and which has generously lent 220 prints to the exhibition. Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century is organized by Peter Galassi, Chief Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art.
Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century is organized into 13 sections, beginning with 34 prints drawn from Cartier-Bresson’s work of the early 1930s, when the young Surrealist rebel used the quickness and mobility of his handheld Leica camera to invent a new brand of creative magic. Several of his early pictures celebrate motion by freezing it, such as Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris (1932), in which a leaping man is forever fixed just before his heel touches the water that reflects his silhouette. Other pictures utterly transform reality, reinventing the life ofthe street as Surrealist theater, more mysterious and compelling than the world we know. In Valencia, Spain (1933), for example, a boy gazes upward at a ball he has tossed; because the ball is out of the picture’s frame, the boy is transformed into a figure of rapture.