The legacy of one of the parents of modern photography will count, starting this week, with a home at its height. The foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson will open on Tuesday its new headquarters in Paris, which will organize exhibitions on the work of the photographer and other important names. In addition, the center will gather in a single space the totality of its archives, formed by some 60,000 original copies – half of Cartier-Bresson and the other half of his wife, also Photographer Martine Franck– and several thousands of negatives and publications, in process of cataloging since the death of the photographer in 2004. Until now, they were scattered in four different points of Paris.
Established since 2003 in an old atelier from Montparnasse, the foundation now moves to the center of the city, in the busy Marais district, near facilities such as the Pompidou Center, the Picasso Museum or the main contemporary art galleries in Paris. The move to this cultural district (and highly tourist) allows you to seduce a new public and have a more suitable space to mount exhibitions than its former headquarters, an authentic jewel of art nouveau, but of tiny rooms and little functional. "The previous headquarters was always provisional. It's about gaining in centrality and also in square meters, "said the new president of the foundation, François Hébel, who previously led The Encounters of Arles, a photographic festival of reference, for twelve years.
The foundation has been installed in an old parking lot at the back of an interior courtyard, where it occupies two remodeled floors with minimalist contours. They total a total of 900 mtwo, double the previous headquarters. On the ground floor, the building has a modular room that will host the exhibitions. On the first floor, there are the offices of the foundation, a library for researchers and archives. In addition, an area will be used to display a selection of photographs by Cartier-Bresson, with the aim that there will always be his works in view (in the old headquarters, there were those who protested when it did not happen). To the existing spaces will be added, within two years, an underground room that will house other samples -in particular, video and new formats-, for which funding must still be closed. When the process ends, the Cartier-Bresson Foundation will have three times as much space as before.
The operation has been financed with private capital, thanks to the sale of the previous headquarters of the foundation and to the auction of a hundred copies of the photographer, authorized by the widow of Cartier-Bresson in 2011 to defray the expenses. "Our fund is non-transferable: we are forbidden to get rid of the images. Only the sale of some duplicates is allowed when there is an exceptional situation that requires raising funds. Needless to say, this was it, "says Hébel.
The mission of the foundation will continue to be to disseminate the work of this world-renowned artist, but whose work remains subject to myths and misunderstandings. For example, the one who stars in the call instant deccisif, that fraction of a second in which a photograph materializes. It was the chosen title for the American edition of his book Images à la sauvette, although Cartier-Bresson never liked it because of its simplicity and its inadequacy regarding its method. "It was he who built the photo and not mere chance," explains Hébel. Cartier-Bresson preferred the original in French, an expression related to street vendors and the speed at which they flee when necessary. Of the four annual exhibitions proposed by the new foundation, one will investigate the heritage of Cartier-Bresson from unusual angles and thematic approaches. The first, at the end of 2019, will focus on his initiatory journey to China in the late 1940s.
The mission of the foundation will continue to be the dissemination of the work of this world-renowned artist, but whose work remains subject to myths and misunderstandings
The photographer himself did not try to clear up those confusions. He almost never gave interviews or allowed himself to be photographed, for fear of losing the freedom of movement behind his Leica. In his stage of greater recognition, at the beginning of the 70s, he decided to abandon the discipline that had turned him into a legend and devoted himself to his first passion: drawing. "The first time they gave him a doctoral thesis, the author knocked on his door to deliver it to him. Cartier-Bresson shouted at him to leave … But later he kept his work to open this foundation. This is the paradox of the character, "says the director of the foundation, Agnès Sire, who met Cartier-Bresson in the early 80s, when he worked, hand in hand with Hébel, in the Paris office of the Magnum agency, which Cartier -Bresson co-founded in 1947.
Shortly before his death from leukemia in 2012, Martine Franck He was astonished to see so many young people visiting his foundation. "It surprises me, because Henri's work does not seem linked to current trends," he explained in an interview. Hébel does not have an explanation, but he's glad that happens. "The samples on impressionism, on the other hand, are full of visitors with discounts for the elderly," he smiles. "Actually, Cartier-Bresson was a teenager until he was 95." Its foundation aspires to find the same eternal youth. "Our role is not to take refuge in the twentieth century, but to make it dialogue with the XXI," adds the president. Among the plans of this managerial tandem is inviting contemporary artists to interact with the work of the photographer. "We are here to safeguard a legacy, but not to fix a single point of view. The more open it is, the better, "says Sire.
The first exhibition of the new headquarters is dedicated to Martine Franck, vindicated as a great photographer and no longer as the wife eternally eclipsed by the blinding fame of Cartier-Bresson. "We have been able to organize it because it is no longer with us. If I were still alive, I would never have allowed it, "says the director of the foundation, Agnès Sire. Born in 1938 in Antwerp, Franck is still remembered for her legendary discretion. "He used to joke that he lived in the shade of a big tree, but between them there was never a rivalry," says Sire. First, because Cartier-Bresson interrupted his career shortly after marrying Franck, thirty years younger. And, later, because they could not be more different photographers. She was in favor of preparation and calm. He took pictures "as if he had been bitten by a mosquito," recalls Sire. From a wealthy family, Franck ended up documenting the situation of those excluded from the land, from rural communities to abandoned elders, without forgetting his photos about the incipient feminist movement. Along with Inge Morath and Eve Arnold, she was one of the few women of the time who were part of the Magnum agency.