Henri Cartier-Bresson was one of the first photographers selected for Aperture’s Masters of Photography collection, a series that included works by Berenice Abbott, Eugene Atget, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Walker Evans, Andre Kertesz, Man Ray, August Sander, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Weegee and Edward Weston. Although most reprints expand on the original edition, the founding principle of the collection was based on simplicity and clarity, with each work prefaced with an introduction written by an influential critic, and forty photographs that were more retrospective than thematic, allowing each photographer to express his or her own language. For Cartier-Bresson, that language was above all an obsession with composition and a respect for the subject, a moral and aesthetic intransigence which he imposed upon himself and others. There are many photographers who remember their first encounter with his merciless eye. They were tense, admiring and puzzled by his habit of turning a picture upside-down to judge its quality. It was on account of this rigor that the collective he founded came to define modern photojournalism and widen its frontiers. It was an editorial choice that was, if not risky—except perhaps the challenge of negotiating with HCB’s legendary wrath—a confirmation of Aperture’s historic position as a barometer of photography.
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