Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Eye of the 20th Century

Last Thursday morning, we attended a special morning opening for MoMA members. Among the exhibits available for viewing was a breathtaking one featuring the photographs of the great French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Sometimes called the "eye of the 20th century," he may have been the most adept photographer at capturing "life on the run," placing a moment of experience inside a frame that seemed to sum up an entire era. This was especially true for his career as a photojournalist, most famously chronicled when he was a recurring correspondent for Life magazine.

Although many photographs in this show were riveting, one, in particular (shown here), reaffirms photography's power to tell a whole story in a single frame. From April of 1945 and taken in Dessau, Germany, even before the war's end has been officially declared, the photograph shows a woman whose head is hanging in shame and is accused of being an informer for the Gestapo. Another woman nearby extends her arm toward the accused and seems to take great glee in declaring her a traitor. In the meantime, a strong Aryan type wearing dark glasses and a white starched collar sits at a table, seemingly ready to declare the informer guilty. While this drama is played out, at least 20 people surround the central figures, considering, condemning, judging, dispassionately looking on. It is a remarkable picture at a crucial moment in history.

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