HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON: “The photo takes me, not the other way around.”

hcb camera behind him

Henri Cartier-Bresson, French photographer, 1908 – 2004

Henri Cartier-Bresson taught me how to reignite my intuition—to follow the inviting urge to meander in concentric circles until meaning becomes clear, to take a startling encounter with the Greek statue Winged Victory of Samothrace (never italicized to me) seriously enough to write a book about it, and to be attuned to signs and premonitions.  He taught me how to live.


A photo tacked to a periwinkle wall: A seven-year-old, knobby boy-knees braced below shorts.  Shock-still, attention riveted down to the box he grips.  He’s poised to snatch something like a firefly in a jar; some image has dazzled him and his mouth lifts in a victorious smile—he’s about to trap it.

A soft cusion of sleep one winter night in Paris: swirling dream-shapes, dark, misty objects, night’s silence.

“Henri Cartier-Bresson,” a man’s voice said.

My eyes popped open.  I had heard this; my eardrums had vibrated.  The air still rang with sound.  But I was alone in my apartment at 3:30 a.m.

I knew with certainty that Henri Cartier-Bresson, the Parisian photographer of previous decades, whom I had only heard of, had a message for me.

—“Don’t Think” in Wings

Thus began my romance with Henri Cartier-Bresson.  As in the story “À Propos de Paris,” He’s French, but he speaks to me in English.  He died in 2004, but to me, he  is in present tense.

Henri is my mentor in a strange way.  Uncanny synchronicities often happen to me related to him, and sometimes it seems he’s inside my head.  Henri reappears with a message every so often.

Here is a photo Cartier-Bresson took in 1947.  WHICH famous author was this???

truman capote hcb