My first night at the Arles festival was magical: the Place du Forum was filled with guitarists strumming away flamenco or gypsy songs. Most of the action was in the Place, where people gathered around the tables to sip wine or pastis, to gossip, joke or posture.
My favorite memory came a year later when Gene Smith won the award for his Minimata book. One day I got a note inviting me, my wife, the photographer Joan Liftin, and Gene to have lunch with Henri Cartier-Bresson and Martine Franck at their home near Arles. Gene and Henri knew one another from LIFE magazine. Joan and I knew them all from Magnum.
After lunch, Henri drove us back to Arles. On the way Gene decided to tease him about the retrospective book that he had just published. Smith liked to call Henri, Hank Carter, and he started by saying “Hank, how many years have you been making pictures?”
I suspect Cartier-Bresson knew what was coming, and he said tersely “Thirty years or so.”
“And how many pictures are there in the book?” asked Gene.
“Four hundred and fifty,” HCB replied a little testily.
“Wow!” said Gene, “Do you really think you make fifteen masterpieces year after year? Even Picasso wasn’t that productive. Come on now, how many do your really average?”
By the time we got back to Arles, Gene had worked Henri down to nine.
Archives of the Eye of Photography – Charles Harbutt, 2011