Go here to see some of his iconic images: http://www.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_10_VForm&ERID=24KL53ZMYN
The book that shoved photography from second class citizenship into consideration as true art was a revolutionary book that rumbled into the world and shook up editors, magazines and every photographer with a pulse. It was Henri Cartier Bresson's, The Decisive Moment. It's impossible to say, without sounding saturated with hyperbole, just how dramatic the impact of that book was when it hit the bookstores in 1952.
In the U.S. at the time, most journalists were using larger cameras like twin lens Rolleiflexes and bigger single plate cameras like the Graphlex. Most portraits were lit and meticulously controlled. Amateur photographers were at war with grain and most images were tinged with a vague romanticism. HCB walked into the party and turned it upside down.
He was one of the pioneers of the genre we now call street photography but he practiced it all over the world, from Alabama to China. He carried a small, screw mount Leica camera with which he was ultimately fluid. He favored the 50mm focal length but kept a 35mm in one pocket and a 90mm in another pocket. His camera was, of course, a completely manual rangefinder and no one ever saw him use, touch, or hold a light meter. He learned exposure through experience.
He never used flash. He once was quoted as saying that "Using flash is like bringing a handgun to the Opera."
But what about the images? This collection contains over 150 very well printed images. The book weighs in at 6 pounds and is 338 pages in all. The images chosen are both his best work and his greatest hits.
The core of what HCB did was this: He was inconspicuous, his camera was used quickly and discreetly, his exposures were pre-estimated, he watched for the decisive moment when all the elements in a frame came together perfectly, when the energy of the frame hit a peak, and he would bring the camera to his eye and snap. He captured a world in transition. From the second world war, to peacetime and rebuilding and he documented transitions in societies into modernism and into the post industrial age.
But he was much more than a documentarian. He was an artist. He was trained as a painter. He came from enormous wealth and he left a legacy that changed our visual world.
I remember back to 1977 when I was working hard at being an electrical engineering student at UT. I went to the Fine Arts Library with a girlfriend and I browsed while she worked on a paper. I stumbled across a copy (now nearly priceless) of the first English edition of The Decisive Moment and sat down in one of the study carrels to glance through it. Over the course of several hours I looked through the book again and again. Trying to tattoo the images onto my retinas. In one moment of library Satori I'd discovered a master who was responsible for me buying my first real camera (a 35mm rangefinder) and embarking into a passionate study of photography
Looking through my collection of HCB books I am still inspired and can still see the influence of this Frenchman's vision poking and tickling my images. He taught us that photography was about motion, about design and about being aware enough to know exactly when to hit the button and save a concisely framed moment in black and white amber.
He, along with Avedon and Penn, is one of the five greatest photographers of the 20th Century. In my mind he is the precursor to the current, modern age of image making. A loner, an artist, a sensualist. Buy the book at your own peril. I've met many photographers who were lured into this passion during an unguarded moment with a book of Henri Cartier Bresson photographs.