One hundred and fifty eight

An Eye at The Museum of Modern Art

1947 by Henri Cartier-Bresson
MoMA, until 28th June

Cartier-Bresson’s exhibition at MoMA is overwhelming in its spanning of time, type, and in sheer volume itself. Walking through the exhibition one is confronted with photographs from the same era across the globe; one minute he’s in Asia, the next in France, taking in the world and its wife through his lens. His work is intensely observational, catching anybody and everybody doing nothing and everything. What is most interesting in his work, his social observations, is their comparative potential. We have the streets of Russia, France, America, England and Asia all next to one another, pulling out contrasts and similarities that piece together a vivid picture of the intense variation of the world. An Eye at the Museum of Modern Art is one of Cartier-Bresson’s many American pictures, and shows not only his knack for catching people unaware, but also his innovative approach to composition. His voyeurism, his capturing of the brief moment as this lady pauses to draw on her cigarette, is completely mirrored in the layout of the picture. Through a reflective partition of glass, blinds, light and cast shadows, a corridor made up of openings and closings, our eyes are drawn down to the figure we are made to watch. This channelling of our attention, this perspective filled viewpoint, gives us an inherent feeling of the person taking the picture; we stand where he stands. It is interesting as it is perhaps one of Cartier-Bresson’s few photographs that betrays any of his attitude or feeling behind his photographs, rarely do we get such a sense of his presence in taking them. Visually, this photo is a triumph; in a play of light, reflection and tonal texture a car is warped in two halves, the highlights of the blinds are caught on the figure’s skirt, and the whole image has an overlay of reflection that seems to circle the lady we watch.

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