Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour at Somerset House

Ten rare photographs by French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, never before exhibited in the UK, are going on display at Somerset House from 8 November 2012. The exhibition, which will also showcase 75 works by 15 internationally important photographers, aims to illustrate how colour photographers adopted and adapted the master’s ethos, known as “the decisive moment”, to their work, in order to capture the very moment when something happens.

While the father of photojournalism was famously disparaging towards colour photography, Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour showcases a selection of photographers whose commitment to expression in colour measures up to Cartier-Bresson’s essential requirement that content and form were in perfect balance. “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, explains curator William A. Ewing. 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.”

Did you know?

  • Cartier-Bresson took his first photos in the Ivory Coast in 1931, while travelling in Africa for one year aged 23.
  • He first exhibited in New York in 1933, before taking part to an ethnographic expedition in Mexico the following year.
  • In 1936 and 1939, he worked as the assistant of film maker Jean Renoir and in 1937 he directed a pro-republican documentary about the Spanish civil war.
  • Emprisoned in a German stalag in 1940, he escaped in 1943 after several attempts and joined the French Resistance.
  • In 1945, he was amongst a group of professional photographers documenting the Liberation of Paris, before directing a film about prisoners and deportees returning from the Nazi camps.

Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour, Somerset House, 8 November 2012-27 January 2013Alex Webb. Havana, Cuba, 1993_bottomCarolyn Drake. New Kashgar. Kashgar, China, 2009_bottom