On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation, this work celebrates one of the most recognized French photographers, through a selection of 41 conversations that he conducted throughout his career, between 1951 and 2003. Reluctant to interviews seeking to unravel the mysteries of his talent, Henri Cartier-Bresson ultimately gave a lot. This selection of texts, some of which are unknown or unpublished, including several radio interviews or videos, restores his fine and provocative spirit, more inclined to evoke painting or literature than pure and simple photography.
Puis-je garder quelques secrets ? is the fifth title in the TXT collection, directed by Agnès Sire.
Henri Cartier-Bresson is one of those artists who has written a lot about their work and photography in general. He spoke with both personalities from the art world and specialized journalists with the aim of exploring and questioning the medium and it is through his interviews that he shaped his thoughts and theorized photography, its different issues and practices. These interviews bear witness to both his life and his work while offering keys to understanding his aesthetic approach. They also show the evolution of his thinking on photography and the relationship he has with cinema, drawing and painting. This collection takes a new look at this exceptional artist and thinker. It is illustrated by a selection of around thirty photographs and drawings by Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Interview with Agnès Sire, director of the TXT collection
The fifth volume of the TXT collection, dedicated to Henri Cartier-Bresson, appears this fall and coincides with the 20th anniversary of the HCB Foundation, of which you were the general director, then the artistic director until the end of the year 2022. Have you had this editorial project in mind for a long time?
It is part of the HCB Foundation’s mission to organize the archives and this project, in fact, was launched several years ago. The idea was to give the teams time to gather as many documents as possible, whether written or audiovisual, and to find all the elements that could possibly be missing in addition to what we inherited when the Foundation was created in 2003. It is thanks to this work that we were able to produce the most comprehensive book possible.
This work is a collection of interviews given by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Why did you choose the interview procedure?
I think that we should not mix the writings of Henri Cartier-Bresson, already published in Images à la sauvette and in L’imaginaire d’après nature, and his interviews. Especially since these interviews are the most consistent and the most enlightening. They allow us to better understand the character because what he says at the beginning of this book about photography is not at all the same thing as what he expresses at the end. We have thus selected 41 interviews spanning from the 1950s to the early 2000s. This work is entitled Can I keep some secrets? and you write, in your introductory text, that Henri Cartier-Bresson was “reluctant to interviews seeking to unravel the mysteries of his talent, which did not prevent him from giving a good number of interviews”.
How do you explain this contradiction?
I met Henri Cartier-Bresson in May 1980, when I joined Magnum Photos. He had a lot of books and exhibitions dedicated to him, so he was in great demand. I spent my time offering him interviews and he spent his time saying no before ending up accepting some of them. He had a very long life, he was a pioneer of a certain photography of reality which does not seek to document, so it was tempting and interesting to question him. It is easy to see in the interviews that he moved, at the beginning, from a corporate position to a more personal point of view at the end of his life. As for the title, it refers to an interview – which we did not include – and which ends with this sentence: “Can I keep some secrets? “. You should also know that most of the interviews did not have titles at the time. For this work, we decided to add more by taking quotes from the interviews. Some are quite funny and others more provocative.
How did you go about selecting the 41 interviews he gave, as well as the accompanying photos?
With Aude Raimbault and Léa Thouin from the Foundation, we collected all the interviews. We read and reread them. Clément Chéroux, the new director, as well as Jordan Alves, the editor of Atelier EXB, also took advantage of it in order to help us proceed by elimination before I made the final selection, knowing that we had a limited number of pages. As for the photos, we chose them based on publications in the press at the time, certain sentences where Henri Cartier-Bresson evokes a particular image, or even the theme covered in these interviews. Apart from one or two, which he took during the Second World War and which are not known, most have already been published.
You yourself, who have had a long and regular dialogue with Henri Cartier-Bresson, what do you, first of all, want to remember about the substance of these interviews?
There is no artist who defined better than Henri that seeing is a whole. It is a sentence that he had pronounced and which is the title that Clément Chéroux had chosen for his small collection of twelve interviews, published by the Center Pompidou, in 2013, on the occasion of the major HCB retrospective. For me, a great photographer is someone who loves literature, painting, sculpture and who draws inspiration from them. When we talked about photography with Henri, he answered Bonnard, Proust, Chateaubriand. Seeing is everything, it’s so similar to it! We immediately perceive his sensitivity and his great curiosity, above all. Let us not forget that he became a photographer somewhat by chance and that he was resistant to any form of documentary photography.
The last interview of Can I keep some secrets? is imaginary since it appeared in 2008 in La Gazette de l’hôtel Drouot, four years after the death of Henri CartierBresson. Is this a nod to the book L’imaginaire d’après nature, which brought together writings by Henri Cartier-Bresson?
Not especially. It was with Jordan Alves that we came up with this idea of ending the book with this interview, but I always noticed that this Drouot magazine published quality articles. We can see that the author, Dimitri Joannidès, had studied the character well. There are no untruths, and there are sentences that Henri could have said. I think he would have laughed if he had read it. It’s as if he had not said his last word.
Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) developed a strong fascination for painting very early on. In 1931, after spending a year in Ivory Coast, he discovered the camera Leica. He exhibited for the first time in 1933 at the Julien Levy gallery in New York. He traveled in Europe, Mexico and then the United States, and began to take an interest in filmmaking. He collaborated with Jean Renoir in 1936 and 1939 and made three documentaries on the war in Spain during the same period. Prisoner in 1940, he escaped in February 1943 and then joined the National Movement of Prisoners of War and Deportees. In 1945, he filmed Le Retour, a documentary on the repatriation of prisoners of war and deportees. The MoMA in New York dedicated an exhibition to him in 1947, and it was that same year that he created, with Robert Capa, David Seymour, George Rodger and William Vandivert, the Magnum Photos agency. He spent three years in Asia and documented the communists’ rise to power in China. In 1954, he was the first photographer admitted in the USSR since the start of the Cold War. He subsequently made numerous trips, and decided in 1974 to devote himself to drawing. Henri Cartier-Bresson is the author of numerous seminal books, notably Images à la Sauvette (Verve, 1952) The decisive Moment(Simon and Schuster1952). In 2003, the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation was established in Paris, created with his wife, the photographer Martine Franck, and their daughter, Mélanie. The foundation’s mission is to promote their works and support artistic creation.
TXT, a collection of texts on photography
This collection of works, directed by Agnès Sire, is dedicated to reflection on the image, the evolution of the photographic medium through artists’ writings, interviews, critical essays, biographies … Since its invention, photography has given rise to a large number of analyzes from artists themselves, as well as critics or historians of photography as well as other disciplines opening up new points of view. The evolution of the medium, as with any form of artistic expression, is nourished by this vast field of exploration. The texts in the collection echo the creation, analysis, questions and sometimes reveals it in a desire to highlight a current state of research through both historical and contemporary approaches. This transmission objective is at the heart of the collection, which aims to offer reference works on photography and the visual arts in the broad sense, with scientific content that is both cutting-edge and accessible to a wide audience.
Works already published in the TXT collection:
– Clément Chéroux, La Voix du voir The major interviews of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation (2019)
– Wright Morris, Fragments de temps (2019) First translation into French of the writings on photography by the American Wright Morris.
– Alain Bergala, Écrits sur l’image (2021) Collection bringing together a selection of texts by Alain Bergala on photography through the prisms of the still image and the moving image
– Robert Adams, Why Photograph (2022)
Collection TXT directed by Agnès Sire
Interviews Henri Cartier-Bresson
Paperback, 14.5 x 21 cm
30 B&W photographs and illustration drawings
Price: €24 including tax