“Photography is to put in the same line of sight the head, the eye and the heart ” Henri Cartier-Bresson
It is in 1955 that the album Les Européens, conceived and laid out by Tériade, with a cover page by Juan MirF3, was published. Henri Cartier-Bresson had worked on this piece for five years, a short period if one considers that the famous Images à la sauvette of 1952, was the fruit of twenty years’ labour. This piece hence presented a dense portrait of a Europe where, ten years after the war, accumulated ruins, as well as traces of hunger and misery on people’s faces were still clearly visible. In the preface, nevertheless, Cartier-Bresson states that ” whether we are just passing or settled down in a particular place, in order to express a country or situation, one needs to have somehow established a close working relationship, to be supported by a human community; living takes time, and roots take shape slowly… ”
These roots which take shape slowly, had begun to grow ever since his very first travels, since 1932 and his first Leica: Spain and Italy, which he visited in particular with André Pieyre de Mandiargues (Cartier-Bresson was twenty-three at the time) and from where he brought back photographs since become unforgettable. In France, the experience of the Front Populaire and paid vacations in 1937, which he covers closely, offers a lyrical and sometimes idyllic parenthesis to his work. After 1955, his collection is enriched with new travels, in particular to Germany, and to East-Berlin in 1962. Forty years after Les européens, the exhibit brings us the result of nearly half a century of travels, from the 1930’s to the 1970’s, and presents us again with the continent of ancient parapets.”
Amplified and enriched, the work of the photographer with soles of wind is revealed in all it’s grandeur. While he may appear to be a hurried man or a traveller without luggage, to quote his titles from the same period, he is first of all a poet, attentive to the act of love made with each photograph, and this is where the genius is revealed. But this time, with the desired distance, we discover simultaneously the geographer, who analyses the unity or diversity of land occupation, the permanence or vulnerability of cultures; the ethnographer, who captures precisely costumes and customs, clothing and garments, gestures of work and rituals of religion; the anthropologist, who captivates motions of love, a feast or a funeral; the sociologist, gazing at crowds and assemblies, revealing the development of destinies and histories. In rural Europe, strangely silent in the absence of the engine, and where everything was still done by animals and human beings, he portrays, unaltered, these infinitely captivating traits. But the Europe of before the Glorious Thirties, incredibly united despite national differences, seems to have disappeared. The two hundred photographs presented here are the insistent and painful resuscitation of a continent, drowned despite the urgency of political unification; a world of yesterday. Each photograph presents itself not as part of a series, an archive selected among others, but as a singular work of art which, with its own formal qualities and unique meanings, exists in itself. Each is the fantastic concentration in an instant, of an energy which within its black frame, illuminates, like an instant of lightening, the meaning of the moment which has been captured.
This daily chronicle, journalist’s work which makes of light a ritual, sometimes appears like a dream. Have these moments really existed, these crowds really met, these posters calling people to fight really been posted, these kisses really been exchanged, these plates really been used, these encounters really occurred? The characters, faces, expressions, clothing, scenery, streets, houses, the ways of century, it is as if we are the inheritors of history written before our very eyes. Everything would be but illusion and Mayan veil if it were not for the roll of film, which turns faithfully like a Buddhist prayer wheel, to preserve an everlasting trace.
Curators of the exhibition : Maurice Coriat and Jean-Luc Monterosso.