The Inspiring Legacy of Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Pioneering Photo Agency Magnum Photos

  August 22 this year happens to be the 115th anniversary of the birth of Henri Cartier-Bresson, the French “father of modern photojournalism”. Looking back on Cartier-Bresson’s 96-year life, when talking about his greatest influence on modern photography, it must be inseparable from Magnum Photos, a photojournalism agency that enjoys the highest authority in the world, which he personally co-founded.
  When the controversy involving copyrighted photos in Visual China attracted attention from the outside world, people began to discuss the definition of infringement of photographic works, and even questioned the nature of photography. Perhaps from the history of Magnum, a photojournalistic communication organization, we can find more different answers that inspire thinking.
Wait patiently for the “decisive moment”

  “The significance of an event is presented in a precise form in a small fraction of a second, making it the most appropriate description of the event.” In the 1952 photography book The Decisive Moment “”, Cartier-Bresson put forward this concept of photographic aesthetics in a staged and summary manner, which was repeatedly passed down by later generations of professional photographers and enthusiasts.
  Now we carefully appreciate the black and white masterpieces left by Bresson, whether it is the little boy with a wine bottle under his arms on the streets of Paris, with a proud and naughty look on his face, or the coronation ceremony of King George VI of England. , the tired man sleeping soundly in a pile of newspapers. In the complex real world, the subject seemed to consciously break into the stage arranged by Bresson, and waited until various elements such as form, composition, and light were perfectly combined. At that moment, he jumped into the target of his aim.
  Some commentators said that at every historical scene worth recording, Cartier-Bresson, holding a 35mm camera and patiently waiting for the sudden “decisive moment”, looked like an experienced and skilled hunter at the moment he pressed the shutter. -Bresson did have a straightforward description of analogizing photography to hunting. This should come from his experience of hunting antelopes and wild boars for a living in Côte d’Ivoire during his youth.
  On the grasslands of West Africa, Cartier-Bresson formed the most important photography habit in his future life: going deep into the front line, preparing his equipment, then waiting, and finally pulling the trigger or pressing the shutter. This has also become one of the photography concepts that Magnum worked most hard to advocate and implement in the early days of its founding, that is, in rough-textured documentary photography, this world full of chaos, randomness and real details will be captured through dozens of Fractions of a second, heights woven into beautiful photo forms.
  In the spring of 1947, one afternoon in March or April, in the restaurant on the second floor of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the lunch meeting on the founding of Magnum, hosted by the famous war photographer Robert Capa, went smoothly. The ground was passed.

  This is the first photo agency in the world where photographers independently operate and manage their own works.

  It is impossible to confirm the exact inspiration for the name Magnum. It came from the name of the large barrel of champagne that war reporters drank after returning from the front line to celebrate, or it may have borrowed the reputation of a certain powerful bullet. What is certain is that from the very beginning, Magnum’s artistic and business proposition has been extremely clear: it is the first photo agency in the world where photographers independently operate and manage their own works, so that they can have independent choices. The rights of different photographic subjects can better comply with the needs of reality and go to different scenes to record history, while protecting the creative rights of photographers and avoiding abuse by other distribution agencies.
  Cartier-Bresson described Magnum’s positioning and goals very modestly: “Magnum as a group is based on the following ideas: a shared spirit, curiosity, respect and respect for what is happening in the world every moment. Desire to use visual language to convey facts.” Photographers who live and die in every corner of the battlefield should have the copyright of their own negatives. When Magnum was born, he had an extremely obvious aura of idealism.
  With such a simple and direct idea, it set up collaborative service offices in Paris, New York and other places from the beginning, thus better prompting Cartier-Bresson and his fellow members to travel to various continents and work more faithfully. Fulfill the mission and responsibilities of “The Eyes of the World”.
Reject the “superior gaze”

  It was against this background that Cartier-Bresson, who was responsible for the photography mission in Asia, started his trip to India in 1948, and used his camera here to capture precious images of Gandhi’s last two days before his assassination – just before he was assassinated. Hours after the interview ended, the ethnic leader collapsed in a pool of blood.
  Cartier-Bresson followed Gandhi at his funeral, where more than a million people mourned him. During the shooting process, he did not turn on the flash, just as he always insisted on natural light throughout his career; nor did he use a top-down shooting angle in order to highlight the grand and spectacular scenes, but tried to avoid On the premise of causing too much disturbance to the grieving people, get as close as possible, and then get closer to the crowd.
  Through a close-up perspective, Bresson left behind a sad and anxious face at Gandhi’s funeral, and also made the outside world realize that photojournalism from European and American countries has a recording method in South Asian society that goes beyond the previous stereotypes. , is not only the product of the “superior Western gaze”.

  Once a moment is missed, there is no power on earth that can make the same moment happen again.

  It is this classic masterpiece with a gentle and humanistic meaning that consciously rejects the image language of grand narratives, contributes many foundational documents to documentary photography that are difficult to copy, and makes Cartier-Bresson incomparable in the history of international photography. Alternative master status. Looking through Cartier-Bresson’s lens at the rapidly changing world every day, as the pace of reconstruction accelerated after World War II, photographers moved their framing from the battlefield to a broader and more common daily life, and the process of Magnum’s rise to fame around the world It’s also speeding up.

Alien and “Messenger”

  After the two core founders Robert Capa and David Seymour were killed in the war, Magnum, which means “great and tenacious” in Latin, overcame the pain of internal division and confusion and founded Half Centuries later, this photographer’s ideal kingdom has become famous all over the world.
  Standing at this memorable time point, the outside world wrote this classic comment: “In the past 50 years, Magnum photographers have always appeared at the scene of events at various critical moments, becoming witnesses of world history. , chronicling disasters, triumphs and all manner of human folly, created some of the most monumental photographs of the 20th century. Their work proves that photography is one of the most penetrating and compelling art forms of our time. ”
  But Bresson expressed strong dissatisfaction with Magnum’s shift of focus to the commercial field. More than once, he refused to license the news agency’s photography for commercial use, just as he clearly and consistently insisted on black and white images. However, due to the update of imaging technology, the advent of the color film era has become a general trend, just as television news has become more and more popular. In this new era, it is inevitable that Magnum and the print media that work together will encounter greater crises.
  In 1957 or early 1958, René Burri, another Magnum photographer from Sweden, was tracking news events in Greece. When he returned to the hotel and took out the film in his camera, he “saw the lounge. The incident he filmed was being reported on his TV.” Great changes are taking place right in front of our eyes, which is cruel to the photographer – “He took the photos for a day, but before they were sent, or even developed or enlarged, they became obsolete.” The impact of the times
  is So quickly, the golden years of the immediacy of photojournalism are quickly disappearing. Magnum photographers, who had developed a keen sense of emergencies in the past, began to consciously seek to separate their works from reliance on historical events. After British photographer Martin Parr joined Magnum with his works full of bright colors and crowded crowds, different controversial voices emerged within the company, and the classic dispute between Bresson and the former also made this company that once implemented documentary and The photojournalism news agency that bears witness to historical concepts has a different aspect.

  Faced with the criticism that Cartier-Bresson said that “Martin Parr is from a different planet”, the latter, known for his naughty “bad taste”, responded tactfully and gently: “You have a glorifying attitude towards life, and I There is an implicit criticism of life, and I admit that there is a great gulf… What I want to ask you is, ‘Why shoot the messenger?'” Legend has it that the two later came to terms face-to-face at a lunch party. reconciliation.
  From being an outlier and even hostile to taking over the chairmanship of Magnum, Martin Parr has embarked on a different photography path that is different from his predecessors. It also symbolically shows that this photo agency has changed its perspective from focusing on Historical nodes focus more on daily changes in the world.
  Looking back, Magnum’s courage to change is beneficial to its development in the new century. Since its development, Magnum, which has included legendary figures such as Robert Capa and Cartier-Bresson, has grown from the first ten members to less than a hundred members today. To ensure that its position as the global photography industry strives to catch up with the benchmark, Magnum maintains its documentary style and gradually diversifies the style and techniques of its photography, making it a popular choice in the more changing Internet era. The vitality of innovation.
  Coincidentally, it was in China in 1938 that during the Anti-Japanese War, Robert Capa was the only Allied war correspondent who could cover the Chinese war zone. He took and witnessed many news photos exposing the crimes of the invaders, leaving us with Precious wartime historical records were recorded. It was also here that he first came up with the idea of ​​launching a cooperative organization purely for freelance photographers in the future.
  Today, 85 years later, as the incident of Visual China suing photographers for using their own works continues to ferment, there are angry comments that “I hope that the content creation technology synthesized by AI will eliminate the copyrighted picture industry and photography industry in the future”, which has gained a lot of attention on the Internet. Gao Zan agrees. Will the world still need Magnum in the future?
  ”Photographers have been dealing with things that are constantly disappearing. Once a moment is missed, there is no power on earth to make the same moment happen again.” I believe this quote from Bresson is still applicable to A footnote to the times we live in today.

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