Decisive Moments Revisited

Seeing the exhibition “Images à la Sauvette” at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson is for many photographers almost like touching treasured saints’ relics. The exhibition is a selection of vintage black and white photos —along with the original maquette— from Cartier-Bresson’s legendary book.

“Images à la sauvette” is one of the most famous books in the history of photography, assembling Cartier-Bresson’s best work from his early years. Published in 1952, it was embellished with a collage cover by Henri Matisse. The book published in English as “The Decisive Moment” defined the medium for many photographers ever since. Explaining what he meant he said “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.

The French title came from Teriade, a Greek-born French publisher. It loosely translates as “images on the run” or “stolen images.” Dick Simon —of Simon & Schuster publishing fame— came up with the English title “The Decisive Moment.” Robert Capa once called the book “a bible for photographers.” About books Cartier-Bresson said “Magazines end up wrapping French fries, while books remain.”

“Photography is not like painting” he told the “Washington Post” in 1957. “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative… The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”

“Images à la Sauvette,” to April 23, 2017. Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, 2, impasse Lebouis, 75014 Paris.