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February 21, 2014


Henri Cartier-Bresson at the Centre Pompidou

by soundlandscapes

THE CITY OF PARIS has never been shy about celebrating the work of the great twentieth-century photographers who have lived and worked here.


In 2012, the Hôtel de Ville hosted an exhibition of the work of Robert Doisneau entitled “Doisneau: Paris les Halles”. This exhibition included some two hundred photographs taken by Robert Doisneau over forty years of the quartier les Halles, the enormous food market once known as the ‘Belly of Paris’ and its subsequent transformation into the Forum des Halles. Had Robert Doisneau been alive today he would no doubt have continued to photograph the quartier les Halles as the Forum des Halles is being transformed once again.

Currently, the Hôtel de Ville is staging another exhibition this time celebrating the work of the renowned photographer, Brassaï. Although Gyula Halász (Brassaï was a pseudonym) was Hungarian, he lived in Paris from 1920 until his death in 1984.

This exhibition, “Brassaï, Pour l’amour de Paris” or “Brassaï – For the Love of Paris”, recounts the extraordinary story of one man’s passion: that which united Brassaï with the nooks and crannies of the French capital but also with intellectuals, artists, large families and prostitutes – all those who have made Paris the mythical place it is.

The Brassaï exhibition runs until 29th March.

I went to the Doisneau exhibition in 2012 and to the Brassaï one earlier this year and I was captivated by them both.

I make no secret of the fact that in the work I do recording the urban soundscapes of Paris I take enormous inspiration from the great twentieth-century Parisian street photographers. There are many similarities, both technically and artistically, between street photography and urban soundscape recording and I’ve learnt a lot from reading about these artists and studying their work.  It’s not by accident that the strapline to this blog is a quote from Robert Doisneau – “Exploring that gratuitous, never-ending show for which no ticket is needed”, which was how he summed up his work.

And now we are blessed with yet another photographic exhibition in Paris, this time just a stone’s throw from the Hôtel de Ville at the post-modern Centre Pompidou.


Through more than five hundred photographs, drawings, paintings, films and documents, the exhibition is a completely new retrospective look at the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, the first in Europe since his death ten years ago.

Simply called, “Henri Cartier-Bresson”, the exhibition, organised with the support of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, opened on 12th February and it runs until 9th June although, judging by the number of people who were there when I went earlier this week, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it isn’t extended.

Henri Cartier-Bresson at the Centre Pompidou– Listening to the Pictures:

This retrospective illustrates the depth and variety of Cartier-Bresson’s work and his wide-ranging career as a photographer – one that covered Surrealism, the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, decolonisation and the Cold War. The exhibition features his iconic pictures but also puts a spotlight on lesser-known images. It reassesses a number of little-known photo reportage works, brings to light collections of paintings and drawings and focuses on Cartier-Bresson’s forays into the world of film.


Both chronological and thematic, the exhibition is structured around three main viewpoints: the period between 1926 and 1935, marked by Cartier-Bresson’s contact with the Surrealists, his early work as a photographer and his travels all over the world; a second section devoted to his political commitment when he returned from the US in 1936 until he set off for New York again in 1946, and a third sequence opening with the creation of Magnum Photos in 1947 and finishing with the early 1970s when he stopped doing photo reportage.

Despite moving away from photography Cartier-Bresson’s international renown continued to grow and in France, he embodied, almost alone, the institutional recognition of photography. He spent a great deal of time supervising the organisation of his archives, sales of his prints and the production of books and exhibitions. Even though he had officially stopped being a photographer, he still kept his Leica within reach and occasionally produced more contemplative images. But above all, he frequently visited museums and exhibitions and spent most of his time drawing.


Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004)

I’ve never considered myself to be a photographer but, as well as recording the sounds of people inside the gallery looking at the exhibits, I did take some pictures at the exhibition and they include some of my Cartier-Bresson favourites. Unfortunately, my absolute favourite and perhaps Cartier-Bresson’s best known image, “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare” was, rather like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, submerged in a constant sea of people so although I saw it and pondered it for some time, I wasn’t able to quite capture it for this blog piece.

Here though, are some of the other images I captured.










Three Cartier-Bresson self-portrait drawings

This retrospective illustrates just why Henri Cartier-Bresson became known as “the eye of the century”, one of the great witnesses of our history and why he became, and remains, such a dominating figure in the world of photography.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Galerie 2 – Centre Pompidou, Paris

12th February 2014 – 9th June 2014

Open from 11.00 to 23.00 every day except Tuesday.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Feb 23 2014

    I enjoyed the Doisneau exhibition at Hotel de Ville and was just at the Brassai one last Friday. Have made a note of this HCB exhibition for my next visit back to Paris!

    • Feb 24 2014

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Angelina.

      If you enjoyed the Doisneau and Brassaï exhibitions you will certainly enjoy this one. Do make sure that you leave yourself plenty of time though, there’s a lot to see and a lot to take in. Every exhibit is a real treat. I will be really interested to hear what you make of it.

      • Feb 24 2014

        I certainly will. The quality of the exhibitions I’ve been to in Paris are always really good and I always try to make time to go to one or two whenever I’m back 🙂

  2. hmunro
    Feb 28 2014

    There’s very little hope of getting back to Paris before June and seeing the exhibit for myself, but your descriptions and personal musings about street photography make me *almost* feel as I’ve been there with you. Marvelous!

  3. hmunro
    Feb 28 2014

    PS: I wouldn’t be surprised if one day some of your sound recordings of Paris become as iconic as Cartier-Bresson’s images. It’s quite apt, I think, that you should so identify with the “classic” street photographers.

    • Mar 2 2014

      Thank you Heather, I am both flattered and touched by your comment.

      I do take great inspiration from the great Parisian street photographers and I’ve learnt a huge amount from studying their work. But, whilst sound recording has gained a higher profile, particularly over the last few years, it still remains a rather niche ‘art form’ with the sort of recording I specialise in, urban soundscape recording, fairly well down the pecking order. I do think though that as our environment, and particularly our urban environment, becomes increasingly suffocated with noise pollution people may look back at the characteristic sounds of our early 21st century urban sonic tapestry with some affection. Maybe then I will enjoy my 15 minutes of fame!

      And don’t give up on seeing the Cartier-Bresson exhibition. After it closes in Paris it’s going to Spain, Madrid I think, so get to work on Steve and persuade him that visiting yet another new country would be a really good idea!


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