Peter Galassi on HCB

Fifteen years ago I argued that there is a crucial difference between Cartier-Bresson's stunning innovation of the early thirties and the much richer achievement that came later. In the earlier work, the decisive moment is a scalpel that cuts a fragment of perception from its context, displacing it into the realm of imagination. In the later work, the decisive moment is a net that gathers 'the significance of an event' into the still frame, suggesting the absent context. True, enough I still believe. But this was hardly intended as the last word on the matter. Permit me, then, to contradict myself. 

To begin: That second definition of the decisive moment could not exist without the first. For there is no such ting as 'the significance of an event,' at least not in the way we may speak of the weight of a stone. Most of the time there was hardly an event at all before Cartier-Bresson saw it for us in the picture. 

In the early thirties, he had discovered  that photography possessed the power to reinvent experience so radically that it could transform child's play into cosmic rapture. After the war, he used that very same power to strip experience of its Rashomon multiplicity of potential meanings, to isolate and reveal the one he had felt...

he brilliance of this creative performance has been dulled by the massive output of countless self-elected followers who have misconstrued Cartier-Bresson's style as a pictorial game. The 'precise organization of forms' is merely the precondition of an articulate picture. The picture must then have something to say - about something.