FOR three years during WWII the renowned French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was presumed to be dead. And though he was only in his mid-30s when taken prisoner by the Germans, the Museum of Modern Art in New York decided to mount a memorial exhibition of his work.
To everyone's surprise, however, he turned out to be very much alive (Cartier-Bresson died in 2006, just shy of 96).
When he heard of the exhibition, however, he decided to assist, compiling the best of his work to date in a scrapbook that, in due course, was largely forgotten. Only recently has it resurfaced, bringing to light a crucial period in the early career (1932-46) of the famous photographer. More than 300 of its striking images are on view at the ICP, chronicling his development from his early 20s to just after the liberation of Paris.
In these works the photographer is already highly accomplished, though he occupies a middle ground between the art photography of his early work and the more journalistic photography for which he's best known.
But perhaps the best description of his work is that he is an artistic journalist, who never allows the immediacy of the event to get the better of his eye, with its formidable instincts for visual balance and texture. And expert example of this is his views of Mexico, especially of Mexican prostitutes from the '30s.
In another scene of Madrid, from 1933, his depiction of faces against a white wall is as masterfully composed as a painting by Mondrian or Klee.
At the same time, he is capable of straight journalism when that is called for, most powerfully in his scene of a confrontation, in liberated Paris, between two women, one of whom had betrayed the other to the Germans.
The exhibit debuts at International Center of Photography, Sixth Avenue at 43rd Street; (212) 857-0000. Through April 29.
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