The Europeans • Henri Cartier-Bresson • Magnum Photos

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Arts & Culture

The Europeans

Henri Cartier-Bresson finds a common humanity among Europeans

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Alicante, Spain. 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Warsaw, Poland. 1931. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Taxi drivers. Berlin, Germany. 1931. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Madrid, Spain. 1932. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Hyères, France. 1932. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Place de l'Europe. Gare Saint Lazare. Paris, France. 1932. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans A café in Vieux-Port. Marseille, France. 1932. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Inside the sliding doors of the bullfight arena. Valencia, Spain. 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Trieste, Friouli, Italy. 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Seville, Andalucia, Spain. 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Seville, Andalucia, Spain. 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Salerno, Italy. 1933. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans A young Belgian woman and former Gestapo informer, being identified as she tried to hide in the crowd. Dessau, Germany. April, 1945. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Scanno, Abruzzo, Italy. 1951. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Dublin, Ireland. 1952. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Salzburg, Austria. 1953. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Zurich, Switzerland. 1953. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Quai des Tuileries. Paris, France. 1956. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans The frozen Rhine with the Cathedral in the background. Cologne, West Germany. 1956. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans The Rhine river in the distance. Gelderland, Near Herwijnen, Netherlands. 1956. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Floating logs on the river Tornea near the frontier with Finland. Sweden. 1956. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Island of Siphnos. Cyclades, Greece. 1961. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Eton College. Eton, England. 1962. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans The construction of the Berlin Wall. West Berlin, West Germany. 1962. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans The Berlin wall. West Berlin, West Germany. 1962. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans The Golden Horn. Istanbul, Turkey. 1964. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Stud farm to the south of Budapest. Hungary. 1964. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Prizren, Kosovo, Yugoslavia. 1965. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Wall inscription: Jouissez sans entraves (Pleasure without limits). Rue de Vaugirard. Paris, France. 1968. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Near the Selnau station. Zurich, Switzerland. 1966. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Simiane-la-Rotonde, Alpes de Haute-Provence, France. 1969. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Monastery Alavardi (XIth Century). Visitors from the kolkhozes, celebrating Saint George. Telavi, Georgia. 1972. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans In a train. Romania. 1975. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson | Europeans Switzerland. 1991. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos

Founding Magnum Photos in a Paris dealing with the aftermath of World War II, Henri Cartier-Bresson was himself coming to terms with his own experiences; he escaped a prisoner of war camp after being held for three years on his third getaway attempt. He was captured during the Battle of France, where he served in the French Army as a Corporal in the Film and Photo unit. Despite brushing the experience off in later years – Cartier-Bresson once answered that his escape from a Prisoner of War (PoW) camp was his “favorite journey” in a Proust questionnaire – his ordeal undoubtedly shaped his future approach to work, travelling the world with a stray dog freedom, firstly focusing his camera on his fellow former prisoners and other displaced people of war in a documentary film he co-directed, Le Retour (The Return).

Cartier-Bresson used painting and drawing to help him to unpick the events he witnessed during the post-War period, but it was ultimately with his camera that he captured the stories of the Europeans getting to grips with a continent that had – it seemed – irrevocably changed. Through portrait after portrait, the sum of each individual moment captured became a detailed picture of post-war Europe, beginning to unify just as Magnum too was coming together as an agency. Cartier-Bresson’s photo-study Europeans presented a portrait of the continent, documenting a landscape shadowed by the war. Travelling across Europe, from the Scandinavian shield to the Irish bogs, the photographer looked beyond nationalism to find a shared human experience and a greater, more unifying sense of European identity. Cultural idiosyncrasies aside, Cartier-Bresson’s study shows Europeans united in the ongoing business of living. A book featuring these images was published in 1955, and in later years Cartier-Bresson revisited the theme, which had been central throughout his career, pulling together a collection of images from pre and post-war Europe that, combined, create a nuanced yet universal portrait of shared humanity.