How would you rate an acclaimed photographer who says “Photography is nothing, it’s life that interests me” … Poseur or snob?

When Henri Cartier-Bresson attended an exhibition at the International Centre of Photography in New York, he spoke about his growing frustration with photography. “All I care about these days is painting – photography has never been more than a way into painting, a sort of instant drawing” He sounds like a man with an unhappy mindset, successful at an art form he seemed to despise, whilst fairly mediocre in one he loves. A bit like Belle de Jour wanting to be the archetypal good wife but knowing that her real talent was that of a high-class tart.

Nor it seems did he have the most appealing personal qualities. When photographed at the New York meeting by a young man, he screamed “You must not photograph me – no one is allowed to photograph me!” And continued face bright red, screaming at the top of his voice that “Everyone must know that without his cherished cloak of anonymity he could not continue to go unnoticed among the people of the world…”

Coming from a man who spent a lifetime photographing unsuspecting individuals who have been captured by his photographic eye, it borders on egoistic hypocrisy. I’ve long had the feeling that because some of the “photography art establishment” rate him so highly, it’s become almost blasphemous to criticise him. But lest you think I have a grudge against street photographers, I’d like to draw attention to Brassai, a contemporary of Cartier-Bresson.

A far superior photographer in my humble opinion. His exposure and sense of composition is superior, his social commentary more clearly defined, concentrated and revealing. A photographer who’s imagination and curiosity about life produced a far superior body of work…

Brassai, best known for his enigmatic images of Paris…

A night bird who’s work included Parisian life in the 1930s, where he photographed lovers, prostitutes, gays and gatherings in cafés, bars, and dance halls with an intimate dramatic candor that’s still striking today…

He also portrayed artist friends like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and others of the city’s creative avant-garde. Brassai portrait can be seen in the centre…

NB: A full account of Cartier-Bresson losing his cool can be found at the ‘Online Photographer’ blog here

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