CARTIER-BRESSON: A Question of Colour


Henri Cartier-Bresson: Harlem, New York, 1947 Gelatin silver print / printed 1970s Image: 29.1 x 19.6 cm / Paper: 30.4 x 25.4 cm © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, Courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

Alex Webb: Tehuantepec, Mexico, 1985
71 x 47 cm, Digital Type C print © Alex WebbCarolyn Drake: New Kashgar. Kashgar, China  2011
30.48 x 20.32 cm, Digital Light Jet print © Carolyn Drake 2012Henri Cartier-Bresson: Brooklyn,  New York, 1947
Gelatin silver print / printed in 2007
Image: 19.8 x 29.8 cm / Paper: 22.9 x 30.4 cm
© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, Courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson

Positive View Foundation announces its inaugural exhibition Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour, to be held at Somerset House, 8 November 2012 - 27 January 2013.

Curated by William A. Ewing, the exhibition will feature 10 Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs never before exhibited in the UK alongside over 75 works by 15 international contemporary photographers, including: Karl Baden (US), Carolyn Drake (US), Melanie Einzig (US), Andy Freeberg (US), Harry Gruyaert (Belgium), Ernst Haas (Austrian), Fred Herzog (Canadian), Saul Leiter (US), Helen Levitt (US), Jeff Mermelstein (US), Joel Meyerowitz (US), Trent Parke (Australian), Boris Savelev (Ukranian), Robert Walker (Canadian), and Alex Webb (US).

The extensive showcase will illustrate how photographers working in Europe and North America adopted and adapted the master's ethos famously known as 'the decisive moment' to their work in colour. Though they often departed from the concept in significant ways, something of that challenge remained: how to seize something that happens and capture it in the very moment that it takes place.

It is well-known that Cartier-Bresson was disparaging towards colour photography, which in the 1950s was in its early years of development, and his reasoning was based both on the technical and aesthetic limitations of the medium at the time.

Curator William E. Ewing has conceived the exhibition in terms of, as he puts it, 'challenge and response'. "This exhibition will show how Henri Cartier-Bresson, in spite of his skeptical attitude regarding the artistic value of colour photography, nevertheless exerted a powerful influence over photographers who took up the new medium and who were determined to put a personal stamp on it. In effect, his criticisms of colour spurred on a new generation, determined to overcome the obstacles and prove him wrong. A Question of Colour simultaneously pays homage to a master who felt that black and white photography was the ideal medium, and could not be bettered, and to a group of photographers of the 20th and 21st centuries who chose the path of colour and made, and continue to make, great strides."

Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour will feature a selection of photographers whose commitment to expression in colour was - or is - wholehearted and highly sophisticated, and which measured up to Cartier-Bresson's essential requirement that content and form were in perfect balance. Some of these artists were Cartier-Bresson's contemporaries, like Helen Levitt, or even, as with Ernst Haas, his friends; others, such as Fred Herzog in Vancouver, knew the artist's seminal work across vast distances; others were junior colleagues, such as Harry Gruyaert, who found himself debating colour ferociously with the master; and others still, like Andy Freeberg or Carolyn Drake, never knew the man first-hand, but were deeply influenced by his example.

Gwyn Miles, Director of Somerset House Trust says: "we are pleased to be working together with Positive View Foundation and to help launch this inaugural exhibition with works by Cartier-Bresson alongside a range of other internationally important artists. Positive View will present the very best in contemporary photography from across the globe and this exhibition will be no exception. We are excited to host dynamic, thought-provoking and intelligent shows in our galleries here at Somerset House that will bring in many difference audiences and who can contribute to the thriving cultural scene here."

Running alongside the exhibition will be a series of events, talks and workshops designed for a broad range of ages and interest groups, demonstrating the Foundation's commitment to its ongoing education programme. Further details regarding the Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour education programme will be announced in due course.

Andrew Page, Founder and CEO of Positive View Foundation states "We are delighted to bring so many different people together to make this exceptional exhibition of Cartier-Bresson at Somerset House possible. The aim of the Foundation is to ensure that the very best in contemporary photography is made available to a wider audience and that quality photographic works from a range of international artists and a host of different minds can discuss, debate and comment on photography. We are very pleased and excited to see this inaugural show realised at Somerset House.We wish to thank the Fondation Cartier-Bresson, Paris, for their advice and invaluable support."