Henri Cartier-Bresson, 'Mississippi'

Henri Cartier-Bresson, 'Mississippi'

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004)
'Mississippi'
1961
Gelatin-silver print
Museum no. 682-1978

The Photograph

'As a photographer Cartier-Bresson has an in-built sense of rhythm. Where others might have to think about what to arrange in front of them, he has a subconscious radar and finds the position where everything falls into place. But he has also trained himself very rigorously to strengthen this natural sense of form. He believes very deeply in training the eye until it becomes second nature.' Mark Haworth-Booth, V&A

Wallace Westerfeldt, the author for the chapter in which this image appeared, wrote, 'The Negro's plight is symbolised in this picture: at Hinds County, Mississippi, outside a grocery store, a white citizen complacently lounges on a large comfortable bench while two negroes huddle on a small rickety one. Southern whites insist facilities are "separate but equal".'

'Cartier-Bresson remembers taking this picture, recalling in a recent conversation that he saw the scene from the car in which he and Westerfeldt were travelling. He was about to get out when Westerfeldt intervened, telling him to stay in the car. Feelings were running high and HCB made the exposure through the car window before they quickly drove away.' Mark Haworth-Booth, V&A

'These are not decisive moments. These are moments that Cartier-Bresson is looking for. These are not ambiguous snaps that are pulled out. These are as constructed as any other picture. He is highly trained with regard to looking for the ironic moments that can be held up as symbolic gestures, through photography, that can stand the test of time and represent issues around difference. These moments still occur in parks and public spaces in a variety of different situations. An image like this could equally be taken in Palestine or in France, in Marseilles, or anywhere that cultures clash.' Mark Sealy

The Photographer

Henri Cartier-Bresson began making photographs in France in the 1930s using a hand-held Leica 35mm camera. This allowed him to combine his strong sense of composition with spontaneous observations.

He photographed extensively in the United States in 1947 and returned many times in future years. In 1961 he photographed civil rights subjects for a book entitled Let Us Begin: The First 100 Days of the Kennedy Administration. The intention of this publication was to combat racism in the American South.

 

This photograph can be found in Print Room Box 16.