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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First impressions, 31 July 2013
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This review is from: Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century (Hardcover)
First impressions are important, although they can be misleading. The dustjacket of this book is a graphic design disaster. The eye is first assaulted by a combination of plum red and intense egg-yolk yellow. Once the senses have become acclimatized to this almost nausea inducing juxtaposition of colours, once notices the ugly typeface of the title; it bears a distinct similarity to the one that was used for Wild West "wanted" posters. The eyes now take in the text of the title, "Henri Cartier-Bresson" (obviously nothing wrong with that) "the Modern Century" - the what? Have I missed something? Is this now the accepted "name" for the 20th Century? No, it isn't. Each century is, or was "modern" at some stage. I think it would be fair to say the 21st Century is and is likely to remain for some time, modern. The title is silly. Lastly one notices a small picture imbedded in the text; a photograph taken by H.C-B, but a poor choice of image for the cover.

It's a pity that MOMA didn't employ the splendid German publishers Schirmer & Mosel, not only to design the book/catalogue, but also to give the exhibition and catalogue a better title. The German edition of this tome has an attractive and appropriately black and white dustjacket and is entitled "Henri Cartier-Bresson, his 20th Century" ("Henri Cartier-Bresson, sein 20. Jahrhundert")

However - of course this is all of less consequence than the content of the book, which is indeed good. There are several photographs here one has either not seen for a long time, or not at all. The images are beautifully printed on satisfyingly thick paper. True, many are on rather a small scale, but this was presumably the only solution if so many illustrations were to be included and the book was not to become unmanageably large and prohibitively expensive. Doubtless, this was also the reason for omitting the black borders one associates with Cartier-Bresson's photographs. Naturally the choice of photographs and the decision, which ones were to be printed large, which small was subjective, but on the whole the selection is a good one. The text is, as you'd expect with a retrospective exhibition, exhaustive and informative; even the most obsessive Cartier-Bresson enthusiast is likely to find something there they didn't know. Unfortunately, the author Peter Galassi, occasionally descends into "intellectualese", which slightly mars ones enjoyment, as it serves no purpose other than to obfuscate what he's presumably trying to communicate. He also indulges in criticism of previous publications on Cartier-Bresson which, in view of his own publication's deficiencies, is an urge he should perhaps have resisted.
I have one other, minor gripe and this is the anachronistic use of place names; Beijing for Peking, Mumbai for Bombay, St. Petersburg for Leningrad etc. For example, in 1958 no one, certainly not outside China, used the name Beijing; to alter Cartier-Bresson's original text to suit contemporary American "taste", is a travesty.

This is arguably not the best book on Cartier-Bresson, but it is undoubtedly one of the best. It's a volume that has, with the exception of the dustjacket, grown on me. If you have an interest in the work of the late, great Henri Cartier-Bresson, or good photography, you should acquire it. On the other hand, if you're fluent in German I recommend you buy their edition; it will look better on your bookshelves and the content is, apart from the obvious difference, identical. Except that the Germans, I'm glad to say, have stuck with "Peking".
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