Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Drinking Game!

Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye. No one needs to be convinced that HCB is the greatest photographer to walk God’s green earth, so I did back flips when I saw this title on Netflix. As a person I was always left with the impression that HCB became a crusty old man who never let himself be photographed and thumbed his nose at photography for the art of painting and sketching. So I was surprised that this doc actually got made.

The first thing that surprised me was how ‘cute’ and boyish he comes off as he peeks out from behind his images while holding them up for the film crew. [NOTE: on my second viewing of the DVD, I took a drink of wine every time I saw a wine glass on screen. You should have at least two bottles on hand if you’re gonna play this game.] Boy do the French know how to live.
Overall the film falls flat. Despite two great scenes, one of him taking-in the street from his rooftop and him looking at his images while being reflected in a window, I didn’t learn as much as I wanted. It’s an exercise in HCB looking through his own images and not saying much, always with a smile, we know he has lots to say, but he seems to hold back. We also get the ‘other’ photographic masters like Erwitt and Koudelka flip through books going, ‘I like this picture.’ Not much substance here. BUT if the photo community has left you with the impression that HCB had become grumpy and unwilling to visit his photographic past then have a glass of wine and see how sweet he comes off on camera.



  1. I DVR’d this on the Sundance Channel a couple of weeks ago, and although I’ve watched it a couple of times, I can’t bring myself to erase it. Cartier-Bresson comes off as a mischevious old guy, kind of smiling to himself most of the time.

    You’re right, there’s not a lot of substance to the film, but I enjoyed seeing some of my favorite photos (and some I hadn’t known about before) on my fairly large TV screen, as opposed to a low-res version on the Web. I also liked the moment when he says one of the photographer’s tasks is to make people forget they’re being photographed.

    “It’s the same for you,” he says to the film cameraman in what I thought might have been a mini-slap. In other words, “Part of your job is to make me forget you’re here, but your presence is obvious.”