The Decisive MOMA

A young patron takes a break at the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition at the SFMOMA.

01-05-2011

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is hosting an exhibition of the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004). The exhibition is very large – it fills the entire third floor of the museum. Yesterday was free admission day, so it was well-attended.

Cartier-Bresson is known as one of the early pioneers of modern photo-journalism. He would carry a small Leica camera with him on the streets and make candid photographs of everyday life. In order to be less obtrusive, he covered the shiny silver parts of the camera with black paint.  One of his books was titled, “The Decisive Moment,” a nod toward his commentary that the photographer must know intuitively when to click the camera.

I really enjoyed the exhibition – his early works are amazing when you consider that his images were made as early as the 1930’s. He captured common people doing common tasks and most images had a sense of activity. Many of the photographs were low contrast, with some blur, either from the subject movement or camera movement. Keep in mind he had to set everything manually and he did not have a little LCD screen to peek at to see how his photos looked. Think: “Pioneer”.

Coincidentally, the SFMOMA also had an exhibit called “Exposed” which illustrated the arena of surveillance, voyeuristic and street photography. The photo below is not meant to be voyeuristic, but it is an interesting perspective on human movement.

Looking up at the 5th floor catwalk over the atrium at the SFMOMA.

On the second floor of the museum was a large portrait display from a previous exhibition at the SFMOMA, called “The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now.” I asked Laura to stand in to replace one of the faces.

She's not mad - I asked her to avoid smiling to match the other faces.

SFMOMA’s exhibition of Cartier-Bresson’s works runs through January.

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