Sixty nine remarkable photos showcasing India’s colorful culture are on exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City, entitled ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson: India in Full-Frame’, through September 4, 2017.
Disputed borders, refugees, charismatic leaders, assassinations—the India of the mid-century does not sound so distant from the world today. It was a time and place captured expertly and in great depth by the pioneering photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004).
In 1947 Cartier-Bresson co-founded the internationally renowned cooperative photographic agency Magnum Photos. Later that same year he undertook his first trip to India as part of a three-year stay in Asia. At the time, India was undergoing a massive political transition, having gained independence from British colonial rule and been partitioned from Pakistan. In January 1948 Cartier-Bresson traveled to Delhi to meet with one of the key players in that transition, India’s great leader Mahatma Gandhi. It would be one of Gandhi’s final meetings before the leader’s assassination at the hands of a Hindu nationalist on January 30.
The resulting photos of Gandhi’s last day of life and the events surrounding his funeral, which helped catapult Cartier-Bresson to international fame, are part of a selection of 69 photographs from the photographer’s travels to India shared in the exhibition. They reflect his abiding interest in the people and sites of India, including some examples of his “street photography” style that has influenced generations of photographers. Together they illustrate a master photographer’s perspective on transformative moments in Indian history.
Henri Cartier-Bresson traveled to India five times, starting from 1947, as part of a three-year stay in Asia, after he co-founded the internationally renowned cooperative photographic agency Magnum Photos. Over the course of two decades, he captured through his lens India’s people – the rich and the famous, the poor, marginalized and ostracized; momentous political and social occasions, like arguably nobody else has ever done.
The exhibition makes one thing amply clear: Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) was as much at ease in delineating India’s mind-boggling diversity and crowds, its humongous, proud culture, stark poverty and pathos – without his subjects losing dignity, as in the company of such illustrious men and women as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Edwina Mountbatten, the Maharani of Baroda – who looks resplendent in diamonds that once belonged to Napoleon, and Ramana Maharshi, capturing some startling private moments.