Henri Cartier Bresson at Galleria “Raffaele De Grada” San Gimignano

From 16 June-15 October 140 photos by the great Master Henri Cartier Bresson will be on show at Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea “Raffaele De Grada” in San Gimignano. We will be led into his world, look into the richness of each picture, testifying to his clear-headed and self-aware attitude towards his historical and sociological times.
When he took the poster picture selected for this new monographic exhibition in San Gimignano Henri Cartier-Bresson was only 24 years old. Two years before he had bought his first Leica camera, but he was still striving to find his professional way. He was pretty undecided and exploring his various interests in painting, and cinema as well. “I’m just a nervous person, and I love painting.” ”As to photography, I don’t understand anything about it” he used to say.
Not understanding anything about photography, also meant not developing his own shots: this is something he would leave to professional photographers. He didn’t want any editing of the negatives or of the frames: each photo must be judged on the photographer’s ability to catch the here and now, and on the portrayed subject’s immediate response.
According to Cartier-Bresson, the photographic technique is only a tool that should not prevail on nor upset the initial experience, which is the real time defining a work’s meaning and value.
“For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. In order to give a ‘meaning’ to the world, one has to feel involved in what one frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry. It is by economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression”.
Henri Cartier-Bresson never revises his pictures, there is no selection, it is either accept it or discard it. Nothing else. Hence, he is just right when he says he doesn’t understand anything about photography in a world which, conversely, has elevated this art to a tool of illusion par excellence.
Taking pictures for him means moving from the imaginary to the real world: it is a ‘nervous’ passage, namely a clear-headed and quick move, with which he fully masters what he is doing, without being overwhelmed or upset by it.
“To take a photograph is to hold one’s breath when all faculties converge in a face of fleeing reality. It is at that moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy”.

His photos catch the contemporary nature of things and life. His shots testify to his clear and accurate perception and to the order of forms.
His geometric composition lasts only a fleeting instant, from surprise to the shutter click. His composition is shaped out of a sudden perception, which is promptly exploited without any previous scrutiny. Henri Cartier-Bresson’s composition is mere reflex, allowing him to fully understand what things around us can offer. Not always and not by everyone can this be appreciated: you need a very special eye like his.

“To take a photograph means to recognize, simultaneously and within a fraction of a second‚ both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same target”.
When talking about Henri Cartier-Bresson – stated Denis Curti, curator on behalf of Palazzo Ducale – it is important to remember his biography. His experience as a photographer cannot be separated from his private life. There are two episodes in his life that say a lot about his character: in 1946, he learned that the MOMA New York would dedicate him a ‘posthumous’ exhibition, since they thought that he had died during the war. He then contacted the curators to explain the situation and, quite ironically, it took him more than a year to prepare the exhibition, which was opened in 1947. That same year, together with Robert Capa, George Rodger, David Seymour, and William Vandivert he founded the world-renowned Magnum Photos Agency. In other words, Cartier – Bresson’s fate was to become an immortal photographer. He succeeded in rewriting the vocabulary of modern photography and influence generations of future photographers.
Regarding the creation of Magnum Photos, which still today is a pillar of international photojournalism, Ferdinando Scianna, who was the only Italian partner for many years, wrote:
Magnum is surviving in line with the utopian egalitarian principles of its founders. Quite mysteriously, it somehow succeeded in letting even some violent contradictions coexist. This is what I’m mostly passionate about. As for me, with my deep Sicilian and individualistic nature, it is hard for me to feel like I belong to any type of group. However, if I ever have to think about a cultural belonging, that is the tradition I identify with.

The exhibition Henri Cartier Bresson Photographer features a selection of photos originally curated by his friend and publisher Robert Delpire. It has been organised in collaboration with the Fondation HCB, Paris, set up in 2003 with his wife Martine Franck and his daughter Mélanie. The Foundation’s main goal is to conserve his archive as well as the one of his wife Martine Franck and offer an exhibition space to other artists.

This exhibition aims to divulge Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photos and the way he used to work, like his constant search for contact with other people, in the most diverse places and circumstances. With his camera, while continuously seeking a surprise moment to bust our habits, or a moment of wonder to free our minds, he helps us be ready to grasp and glorify his work.

FRANCE. Paris. Place de l’Europe. Gare Saint Lazare. 1932.

Copyright: © Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos


Exhibition venue
Galleria di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea “Raffaele De Grada”
San Gimignano, Via Folgore da San Gimignano 11

Promoted by
Assessorato alla Cultura of San Gimignano

Denis Curtis

Exhibition managed by

Fondation HCB, Paris and Magnum Photos Paris

Opening hours
16 June-30 September 10.00 a.m. – 7.30 p.m.
1 October-15 ottobre 11.00 a.m. – 5.30 p.m.

€ 9,00 – Full price
€ 7,00 – Concessions: age 6 to 17, over 65, over 20 people groups (max 2 guides for free), student groups with their teachers (max 2 guides for free)
free – under the age of 6, residents of San Gimignano, disabled visitors and their caretaker, tour guides, ICOM members