Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour – Critical Reflection

Walking into the “Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour” exhibition, I was expecting to be disappointed. Through the mass of reviews that I had read on the outset of my journey, it seemed that the amount of Henri Cartier-Bresson prints had been misinterpreted and over-advertised due to the exhibition title, and there were therefore little prints that were actually created by Henri Cartier-Bresson himself. Like a good exhibition goer, I began the exhibition by reading the foreword that was written by William A. Ewing, the curator. However, this was the tool that ended up ruining the whole exhibition for me. In the third and final paragraph of this foreword, the curator stated a quote that was said by Henri Cartier-Bresson himself that went: “Colour photography is not up to the mark: Prove me wrong!” The curator then went on to say that “A number of fine photographers have taken him up on the challenge, and have – on strength of evidence – proved him wrong.” Now I know that Henri Cartier-Bresson did indeed set the challenge, and that the curator later goes on to say “… there can be no question that his (Henri Cartier-Bresson’s) eagle eye sharpened and inspired the colour practitioners featured on these gallery walls”, but I couldn’t help but find myself aggravated by the term “prove him wrong”.  Being the huge Henri Cartier-Bresson fan that I am, he cannot, and should not, technically be proved wrong or looked down upon. He was a major milestone in Black and White photography, a pure genius when it came to the “decisive moment” and after reading this foreword, I couldn’t help but feel offended for the eagle-eyed photographer himself. Now, I know that the curator didn’t mean any harm, but I feel that his choice of wording was very poor. These three, harsh words completely changed the way I saw the entire exhibition.  I thought that the way that the photographs were laid out had no structure. It, to me, was as if the curator was so involved in trying to put his point across that he was not paying attention to what he was doing. There were collections of the same photographer that were scattered about the exhibition hall, just to be used as a tool to ‘disrespect’ the remarkable work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. I am not saying that I found the photographs horrendously bad, but that I extremely struggled to appreciate their work after being so caught up by the tiniest miswording. I know that many people will think that I am being pathetic or that I over-thought the wording, but it is this minute detail that lead me to have a less enjoyable exhibition experience. Note to self, the foreword is just as important as the exhibition; it can make it, or break it.

What's On at Somerset House

Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour Information


Twitter: Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour. Personally? Disappointing and misinterpreted. Forewords can either make or break an exhibition.