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Paris, France. Photo: Henry Cartier-Bresson/ Magnum Photo

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Mexico. Photo: Henry Cartier-Bresson/ Magnum Photo

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Paris, France. Photo: Henry Cartier-Bresson/ Magnum Photo

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France. Photo: Henry Cartier-Bresson/ Magnum Photo

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Paris, France. Photo: Henry Cartier-Bresson/ Magnum Photo

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Paris, France. Photo: Henry Cartier-Bresson/ Magnum Photo

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Spain. Photo: Henry Cartier-Bresson/ Magnum Photo

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Kashmir, India. Photo: Henry Cartier-Bresson/ Magnum Photo

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Simiana, France. Photo: Henry Cartier-Bresson/ Magnum Photo

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Cordrnal Pacelli's visit to Montmarte, France. Photo: Henry Cartier-Bresson/ Magnum Photo

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Paris, France. Photo: Henry Cartier-Bresson/ Magnum Photo

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Paris, France. Photo: Henry Cartier-Bresson/ Magnum Photo

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Paris, France. Photo: Henry Cartier-Bresson/ Magnum Photo

WORLD PHOTOGRAPHY DAY

World Photography Day: the 'decisive moments' of Henri Cartier-Bresson

Kaushik Ramaswamy @kaushikramaswa1

August 19 is World Photography Day. Over the next week we're running a host of stories, photo essays, interviews and an exciting contest exploring what photography looks like in an era when everyone is, to some extent, a photographer.

First, a look at how Henri Cartier-Bresson virtually created the genre of street photography by taking the camera out of the studio.

'To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart,' said Henri Cartier-Bresson, and it's a philosophy that is reflected in every photograph he ever took. Considered by many to be the father of modern photography, he has any number of creative accomplishments to his name - but if there's one that redefined the form, it was the concept of street photography.

Before Bresson explored street photography - or real life reportage as it was sometimes called - the world of the photographer was the studio, a masterful, heavily-constructed space where he built rather than captured an image.

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Out on the street, though, it was all about capturing that which you could not time, or perfect, or repeat.

'There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment and the masterpiece of good ruling is to know and seize this moment,' wrote 17th-century cleric and memoirist Cardinal de Retz.

This idea of the decisive moment became synonymous with Bresson's photography - so much so that he used the phrase as the title of his most iconic book, published in the US in 1952.

He seems fated to have an accomplished artistic life; born in France on August 22, 1908 in Chanteloup-en-Brie, Bresson had family wealth, privilege, and the rich cultural life of Paris and Normandy as the foundation.

His first artistic interest was in painting, and he attended a private art school under Cubist painter Andre Lhote. He credits this to teaching him 'photography without a camera.' Bresson was most drawn to the Surrealist movement and searching for the extraordinary from among the ordinary in photography.

He soon acquired a Leica camera with a 50mm lens and traveled around Europe photographing candid moments in the streets. For more than three decades, he documented life and major events on assignment or for his personal portfolio. With the intuitive photographer's knack for a great story, he found himself - he would have said by accident - where all the action was happening, from the Spanish civil war to the assassination of Gandhi to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Always, seemingly inexplicably, he was at hand to photograph these events.

For a man with his physical presence, Bresson managed the challenging feat of being unobtrusive - essential to capturing 'the decisive moment'.

But not every moment captured was spontaneous; some, he pointed out were those he was expecting - what it took from the photographer was an almost bottomless well of patience to be alert, and engaged when it did finally happen. It could have been an event, a reaction, an expression, bit it seems like when Bresson clicked the shutter, he was always able to capture a transient moment of magic.

Yet, his approach was entirely methodical; every element in his compositions, people, backgrounds and lights, were exactly how he wanted them. His work is often almost geometric in nature, integrating vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines, curves and shadows, to his advantage.

For a man who documented the world's most famous events, and an enviable roster of the world's icons - from Mahatma Gandhi just days before his assassination to the coronation of George VI, to Marilyn Monroe and Che Guevara - his most spectacular images remain of unknown people.

He loved photographing people in their natural environment. For his first photojournalism assignment in 1937 - the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth for a French weekly Regards - he took no pictures of the king, focussing only on the adoring subjects lining the London streets.

In 1947, he founded the Magnum photo agency with Robert Capa and David Seymour, and spent the next twenty years on assignment, documenting the great upheavals in India and China, and also traveling to the Soviet Union, Cuba, Canada, Japan, and Mexico.

In an interview with the Washington Post in 1957 he perhaps best captured his approach to photography: 'there is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative," he said. "Oops! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.'

A look at this curated selection is enough to prove one thing: Bresson never missed a moment.

Text by Priyata Brajabasi

Kaushik Ramaswamy

Kaushik Ramaswamy @kaushikramaswa1