Henri Cartier-Bresson in Japan

In 1947, Henri Cartier-Bresson founded Magnum Photos, the famous co-operative photography agency, with fellow photographers, Robert Capa, David ‘Chim’ Seymour, and George Rodger. The agency provided a way for photographers to distribute their photojournalism while maintaining the rights to their photographs. He and his co-founders recognised that photography had recently become incredibly powerful as a communication tool, and their agency placed them at the vanguard of the industry. Cartier-Bresson’s career from the late 1940s onwards was dominated by his work with Magnum, which led to several commissions from LIFE magazine. His specific remit for the agency was to cover India and China but he travelled extensively for the next twenty years, taking assignments all over the world, including the USA, USSR, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Cuba and Mexico. Working across the globe, Cartier-Bresson swiftly became one of the world’s most sought-after photojournalists.

In the autumn of 1965, Cartier-Bresson was invited by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun to visit Japan. He made two expeditions, one in the north of the country and a second towards the south. Cartier-Bresson documented the mountains and forests of rural Japan as well as the swiftly modernising metropolises of Kyoto, Hokkaido and Tokyo. Between the end of the Second World War and the end of the Cold War, Japan underwent what has since been coined an ‘economic miracle’. The 1960s was a decade of resurgence for the country, which had now grown out of conservatism and had begun to accept trade with Western countries. The country hosted the 1964 Summer Olympics, held in Tokyo, and in the same year launched the first Shinkansen, or ‘Bullet Train’. By the end of the decade Japan was the second-largest economy in the world.

This dynamic composition, taken in Kyoto as part of Cartier-Bresson’s journey through Japan, captures three young girls in mid-flight. The image is an excellent example of Cartier-Bresson’s mastery of ‘the decisive moment’. Here we see a perfectly framed photograph, with a captivating subject balanced by a powerfully geometric composition.

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