Historic Henri Cartier-Bresson Photos of China to Be Exhibited for the First Time

Henri Cartier-Bresson: China 1948 – 1949 | 1958 is an exhibit not to be missed for admirers of the master photographer and his photojournalism legacy.

Beginning on October 15th, there’s a good reason for photographers to visit Paris. Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson is devoting its new space to the Henri Cartier-Bresson: China 1948 – 1949 | 1958 exhibit, which will show the iconic photographer’s unprecedented accounts of two pivotal moments in China’s history. The work will be comprised of an exceptional collection of photographic and documentary work, and is the first time these photos will be shown to the public.

Henri Cartier-Bresson: China 1948 – 1949 | 1958 features a body of work from Cartier-Bresson’s coverage of the fall of the Kuomintang and subsequent establishment of the Communist regime (1948 – 1949), and Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward” (1958). Commissioned by Life magazine, he ended up staying in China for ten months, staying mainly in the Shanghai area. There, he witnessed and documented traditional lifestyles shortly before the city of Nanjing fell from Kuomintang’s hold and into Communist control. He was forced to stay in Shanghai for four months, leaving China a few days shy of the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.

In time for the 10th anniversary of the PRC in 1958, Cartier-Bresson once again set foot in China, where he traversed thousands of kilometers for four months accompanied by a guide to follow the launch of the “Great Leap Forward.” There, he documented the results of the Revolution and forced industrialization of the rural areas. He was able to document the least positive side of things, including the exploitation of human labor and the grip of the militia.

Both reports are noteworthy, not only for their international success, but also for paving the way to a seminal moment in photojournalism history. Cartier-Bresson brought this series to life during the early days of co-founding Magnum Photos agency, setting the stage for a more poetic and detached style that was less event-based. This also effectively cemented his work as a major standard for “new” photojournalism and set a photography renaissance in motion.

Henri Cartier-Bresson: China 1948 – 1949 | 1958 is comprised of 114 original prints from 1948 – 1949, 40 prints from 1958, and several archive documents. It is also joined by the book Henri Cartier-Bresson: Chine 1948 – 1949 / 1958 by Michel Frizot and Ying Lung Su.

The exhibit will run from October 15, 2019 – February 2, 2020. Visit the Bresson website for more information.