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Whoosh! Focus on a decisive moment

Paris, April 30 (Reuters): Almost a century after his birth and thirty years after he gave up photography, legendary lensman Henri Cartier-Bresson is back in the spotlight with a major retrospective and the opening of his foundation in Paris.

The exhibition, which opened at the National Library in Paris today, groups 350 classic shots and drawings by the 94-year-old Frenchman known as the godfather of photojournalism.

Among the memorable images are his portraits of the painter Henri Matisse in his studio and snatched street scenes from as far afield as Indonesia, Mexico and the US — many of which have since become defining portraits of their era.

“In the category of photojournalist, there is no equivalent. There is no other photographer in the world capable of doing what is on show here,” said Robert Delpire, director of the Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson and curator of the show.

A founding member of the Magnum picture agency in 1947, Cartier-Bresson become the first western photographer allowed into the Soviet Union in 1954. He documented the death of Mahatma Gandhi and the Communist revolution in China.

“To take photographs...is putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis. It’s a way of life,” he once said.

Cartier-Bresson’s serendipitous approach was captured in the 1952 book The Decisive Moment — a title which has since come to encapsulate his knack for snapping fleeting instants.

“He is so fast. The Leica appears out of nowhere and whoosh, it disappears again. It’s really quite surprising and it is due in part to his naturally nervous disposition,” Delpire said.

“It is no accident at all, he just has it in his eye, in a miraculous way. That’s part of his genius, that whatever he does, it is organised in a way that you suspect he set it up, but he has never set up a single picture in his life,” he added.

For a man whose influence is so great, Cartier-Bresson is almost invisible to the public. Notoriously irascible, he hates to have his photograph taken and only rarely grants interviews.

The retrospective gives fans their first chance to see his personal scrapbooks and snapshots from his childhood and his time as a prisoner of war in Germany in the early 1940s.

Delpire, a lifelong friend of the photographer, said Cartier-Bresson was similarly reluctant to set up his eponymous foundation, which opens its doors this week.

He was finally won over by the idea that it would act as an incubator for young talent rather than a mausoleum for his work. Cartier-Bresson set aside his own camera in 1974 and has since concentrated on drawing, another lifelong passion.

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