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“The Decisive Moment” by Henri Cartier-Bresson


I recently bought a copy of the newly released Steidl reprint of The Decisive Moment by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Like many street photography acquaintances of mine, we attribute much of our early exposure to the genre of street photography to the work of Cartier-Bresson. The Decisive Moment is a book that I always wanted to be able to browse through but due to its rarity, I have never been able to until now. The 1st and only French and English editions were published in 1952.

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This post contains a couple of snaps of the book from my iPhone and is an overview of the reprint by Steidl. The people who own the original 1952 edition will be more qualified to do a proper review as they can do a direct comparison to the original and comment on the quality of the printing.

The following is the blurb from the publisher (Steidl):

The Decisive Moment —originally called Images à la Sauvette— is one of the most famous books in the history of photography, assembling Cartier-Bresson’s best work from his early years. Published in 1952 by Simon and Schuster, New York, in collaboration with Editions Verve, Paris, it was lavishly embellished with a collage cover by Henri Matisse.

The book and its images have since influenced generations of photographers. Its English title has defined the notion of the famous formal peak in which all elements in the photographic frame accumulate to form the perfect image. Paired with the artist’s humanist viewpoint, Cartier-Bresson’s photography has become part of the world’s collective memory.

This new publication is a meticulous facsimile of the original book. It comes with an additional booklet containing an essay on the history of The Decisive Moment by Centre Pompidou curator Clément Chéroux.”

The specifications of the book are:
Texts by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Richard Simon
Essay by Clément Chéroux
160 pages + 48 pages textbook
10.8 × 14.6 in. / 27.4 × 37 cm
126 photographs
Clothbound hardcover with dust jacket and a textbook, housed in a slipcase

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Steidl had access to a mint copy of the original book from the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson and from what I gather, this reprint is a direct copy of the original edition. There are a few new references to Steidl (e.g. on the dust cover, the spine of the book, the title page inside the book and the copyright page near the back of the book). Everything else such as the dimensions (a large 27.4 × 37cm), layout and sequencing of the photographs, the text and fonts used in this reprint are an exact copy of the original.

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The photographs in the reprint, printed on a creamy off-white matte paper, are split into 2 sections. The first section of 63 photographs is titled ‘Photographs of the Occident‘ and features photographs from the western world (e.g. UK, Spain, Italy, France, US, etc).

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The second section also consisting 63 photographs is titled ‘Photographs of the Orient‘ and features photographs from Asia (e.g. India, China, Indonesia, the Middle East, etc).

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The essay on the history of The Decisive Moment by Clément Chéroux, found in the additional booklet, is quite an interesting read. The booklet’s title “A Bible for Photographers” comes from a quote by Robert Capa in reference to The Decisive Moment.

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The photographs in The Decisive Moment are very tightly edited and more enjoyable for me compared to the other Cartier-Bresson book I own, Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Man, The Image & The World where the strong images were drowned out by many weaker images. The sequencing and layout of the photographs in The Decisive Moment are very well thought out. The choice of paper as well as the printing seems to mimic the original heliogravure process used to print the original edition. I would be very curious to see a comparison done between this Steidl reprint and the original edition.

It has been a week since I got the book and I have already gone through it multiple times. I suspect my copy is going to get dirty and dogged eared pretty fast!

I personally feel that The Decisive Moment is a must have book for photographers and is available on Amazon US and UK.

All photographs from the book featured on this post © Henri Cartier-Bresson