Henri Cartier- Bresson- A Question of colour. Somerset House, London 12th January 2013


I was looking forwards to this exhibition, I’ve never seen any of Cartier-Bresson’s work displayed and after looking at his ‘A propos de Paris’ book recently; I was interested in seeing some in person. Curated by William A Ewing, this features some images by Cartier-Bresson that had never been exhibited before, and the title ‘a question of colour’ was certainly apt, comparing the Cartier-Bresson’s well known black and white images with those in different shades of colour from similar tones, to zingy and vibrant. Capturing the decisive moment in these, the question is not now about whether it should be colour or black and white. It’s more about the subject, the composition and what that photographer is showing you. Looking onto a snapshot moment on the street in most cases, a strong subject will be that whatever colour it’s viewed in.

The fact this exhibition was a mixed set interested me and allowed me to get to know some new (to me) photographers that I like and some that I don’t. The outstanding photographer within these for me was Karl Baden; I liked his strong use of shapes and colour and how he made use of objects such as car windows to frame the subject.


Some of the images taken by Joel Meyerowitz caught my eye, especially the woman in the Fifth Avenue, NYC image.



The closeness of the subject and the fact she is holding a book entitled ‘The American Character’ shows that he was in the right place at the right time to capture an interesting character; again going back to my earlier comments on the comfort level of the photographic in a well-known area comes through. For me the exhibit shows that colour can equal black and white and in some cases surpass it. Strong, vibrant colours make the images seem more real, black and white tones make the images seem more hard hitting and gritty in some cases. The choice is there and I don’ t think you can opt for one or the other as they both have their strengths and weaknesses yet when done well, possess and extraordinary power.

Colour highlight for me was the Ernst Haas image of the Frigidaire in Paris, France 1954. The blue tones of the shop compliment the colour of the cars and the white bonnet of the woman walking past just ties it in with the signage.


The monochrome highlight was Cartier-Bresson’s ‘Fish Market- Foulton Street’, it’s very atmospheric and you feel like you are looking back into time and I have to think that if this was in colour, it would not have that same feel.


Overall thoughts

– It’s the content of the image that matters more not the colour

– Colour can add a feeling to an image but it still needs a strong subject

– Worthwhile for seeing the comparison between Cartier-Bresson and the photographers that have followed him as well as a good introduction to the different works and photographers that you might not have come across

– Exhibition catalogue would have been good but looks to have sold out


4 responses to “Henri Cartier- Bresson- A Question of colour. Somerset House, London 12th January 2013

  1. There might still be some copies available. I contacted the Positive View Foundation—contact name Lucia Power—and I managed to get one from there. It’s a fab catalog—arrived last night.

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