My Meeting with Henri

19 Jan
 

Originally published April 11, 2008 and updated January 19, 2015

Since I originally penned this blog, Arnie discovered a video of a filmstrip that his cousin, Sheila Turner made with Cornell Capa and ICP of Henri Cartier-Bresson.© 2013 Margo Taussig Pinkerton.  All Rights Reserved.  From Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures.  For usage and fees, please e-mail TBC (at) BCphotoadventures.com (dot) com or contact us at 310 Lafayette Drive, Hillsborough, NC  27278 or at 919-643-3036 before 9 p.m. Eastern Time, ET.

It has since been removed, because whoever posted it did not have permission from the authors. It did, however, serve as an introduction to Sheila’s daughter who is working with the filmstrips now.

Arnie was around at the time these film strips were made (only those with gray hair will recognize this term) and sat in on the editing of some of them at Cornell’s house over dinner and conversation. How lucky he was!

And as we look forward to returning yet again to Paris this summer, I thought it appropriate to update and add photos to this blog, some of them the types of scenes I walked past on this particular afternoon.

Some were made in fairer weather than I experience that day long ago.

Whatever the scenes, they all illustrate what I love about Paris. Sure, there are many more I could post, but …© 2013 Margo Taussig Pinkerton.  All Rights Reserved.  From Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures.  For usage and fees, please e-mail TBC (at) BCphotoadventures.com (dot) com or contact us at 310 Lafayette Drive, Hillsborough, NC  27278 or at 919-643-3036 before 9 p.m. Eastern Time, ET.

It was some years ago, back in the 80s, when I took my girls and one of their friends to explore France for two weeks. I figured they would learn far more there than they would in school.

In Paris, we were based in a little, not-quite-flea-bitten hotel I found on Île de la Cité, right near Notre Dame with all its splendid gargoyles that fascinated the girls.

We walked, and we walked, and we walked some more. There were so many places I wanted to show them — le Louvre, la Place de la Concorde, l’Arc de Triomphe, la Tour Eiffel, Montmartre, la Rive Gauche — before we headed south to Provence and the coast.

Along la Rive Gauche, we saw the sidewalk artists, book bins, and cages of birds, rabbits, and other animals. Children played on the ancient, cobbled streets.© 2013 Margo Taussig Pinkerton.  All Rights Reserved.  From Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures.  For usage and fees, please e-mail TBC (at) BCphotoadventures.com (dot) com or contact us at 310 Lafayette Drive, Hillsborough, NC  27278 or at 919-643-3036 before 9 p.m. Eastern Time, ET.

We sat in sidewalk cafés, watching the street scenes and sipping cups of chocolat, or in my case, wine, basking in the sun, sipping a glass of wine, and imagining what it must have been like when my English granny lived here with my dad.

There was the obligatory shopping, and we all bought maillots, perfect, as it was just too early to find bathing suits in the northern-US stores. They were inexpensive, and they lasted for years and years.

There were wonderful little presents and treasures discovered in bargain bins for family and friends back home.

It was April, and on cue, it rained the second day of our visit. That didn’t stop me from photographing.© 2013 Margo Taussig Pinkerton.  All Rights Reserved.  From Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures.  For usage and fees, please e-mail TBC (at) BCphotoadventures.com (dot) com or contact us at 310 Lafayette Drive, Hillsborough, NC  27278 or at 919-643-3036 before 9 p.m. Eastern Time, ET.

Late afternoon saw us on Pont au Double. The kids were admiring the river view while I studied what I wanted to photograph, camera poised in my hand as I protected it as much as I could in the inclement weather.

“Madame,” I heard a voice say in French, “Your lens cap is still on.”

Also in French, I replied, “Yes, thank you, I know. I am a professional photographer. With the rain, I want to protect my lens until the last minute.”

“Ah, Madame, very good. Let me help you,” said he as he shaded my lens and I photographed.

“Merci, monsieur, vouz êtes si gentil,” I thanked him for his kindness.

“Venez, venez,” he said, beckoning, “Vite, vite!”

My girls looked at me and thought I had lost my senses.

Here we were, following a strange

man in a trench coat and beret to who knows where.

Quietly, I told them, “There are three of us and only one of him,” and that my gut instinct said this was going to be just fine.

The girls understood some French, so they were able to follow smatterings of the conversation between the two adults.

We talked about photography and art and philosophy and music.© 2013 Margo Taussig Pinkerton.  All Rights Reserved.  From Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures.  For usage and fees, please e-mail TBC (at) BCphotoadventures.com (dot) com or contact us at 310 Lafayette Drive, Hillsborough, NC  27278 or at 919-643-3036 before 9 p.m. Eastern Time, ET.

We chatted about our two countries’ similar histories and revolutions.

He wondered where I had mastered my French (family history of being bilingual). I asked how long he had been photographing (all his life). I told him I got my first camera at age eight and that my grandmother had studied piano under the famous Madame Nadia Boulanger while living in Paris with my father. I had been to Paris before, but not since I was a teenager.

He shared his love of the city and acted as our tour guide as we passed this or that building.

“There is a special place you must see, but we must hurry, as they close soon,” he said.

We ended up at La Samaritaine, one of the oldest department stores in Paris.

We took the elevator about half way up and stood by the railing around the atrium.

“This is beautiful,” I remarked, “It could have been designed by Eiffel.”

“How did you know?”

© 2013 Margo Taussig Pinkerton.  All Rights Reserved.  From Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures.  For usage and fees, please e-mail TBC (at) BCphotoadventures.com (dot) com or contact us at 310 Lafayette Drive, Hillsborough, NC  27278 or at 919-643-3036 before 9 p.m. Eastern Time, ET.“I didn’t, but it looks like something he might have designed. The railings have the same lacy quality as la Tour.”

“You are right,” our host said, “Now come quickly before they close the rest.

I have not been able to confirm any link between la Samaritaine and Eiffel, so perhaps our host was mistaken. Certainly, the architects could have taken their inspiration from Eiffel’s work.

We found ourselves on the roof of the building, the roof terrace. It was circular, rimmed with a parapet set at an angle, and decorated with a beautiful, 360-degree panorama of the city. You could look at a landmark, then straight down to the panorama with that same building or park and an ID.

“Look down there,” he showed the girls Notre Dame where we had been less than a half hour before. “Now look, see the picture of that same building here.”

He took out his Leica and photographed while I did the same until the rooftop was due to close. We reluctantly retraced our steps back down to the ground floor, through the city streets, and back over the bridge to where we had met.© 2013 Margo Taussig Pinkerton.  All Rights Reserved.  From Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures.  For usage and fees, please e-mail TBC (at) BCphotoadventures.com (dot) com or contact us at 310 Lafayette Drive, Hillsborough, NC  27278 or at 919-643-3036 before 9 p.m. Eastern Time, ET.

“Where are you going to eat?” he asked.

“I don’t know, as we only arrived yesterday. With the girls, I hope to find some place not too expensive.”

“Ah, I know just the place. It is owned by a lovely Italian couple, but you’ll have to bring your own wine,” as he guided us into a little shop where I picked up a nice bottle of table wine he recommended.

Next door, he introduced us as an American Mother who was visiting with her girls to the owners who took us under their wings.

“Won’t you join us?” I asked, “We’d love to treat you to dinner.”

“I would love to, but I have another engagement. Now, you’ll be alright?” he asked.

We all thanked him profusely for his kindness and for treating us to such a lovely end to the day.

Off he went, and we enjoyed a lovely and inexpensive dinner accompanied by the very tasty wine. Music drifted in from a nearby building.© 2013 Margo Taussig Pinkerton.  All Rights Reserved.  From Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures.  For usage and fees, please e-mail TBC (at) BCphotoadventures.com (dot) com or contact us at 310 Lafayette Drive, Hillsborough, NC  27278 or at 919-643-3036 before 9 p.m. Eastern Time, ET.

I never got his name — nor he mine. It was, after all, an afternoon shared by two photographers having a passion for photography, Paris, music, history, architecture, and life. It wasn’t until just a relatively few years ago when I saw a photograph of him that I realized who had been our host … none other than Henri Cartier-Bresson. I had long admired his work, and knew it well back then. My English granny would often send postcards with his photographs on them. But there are few photographs of him. He didn’t like being on the receiving end of the lens, preferring instead to work as incognito as possible.

The trench coat, the beret, the Leica were all his trademarks, but I didn’t know that back then. That said, the trench coat and beret were not an uncommon sight in Paris in those days.

It is a meeting I have never nor ever will forget. My meeting with Henri!

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11 Responses to “My Meeting with Henri”

  1. Stewart Hopkins 06-07-11 at 1:55 PM #

    Tess,

    Thanks for your story. It reminds me of my meeting with him as well.

    It was the summer of 1971 in Aspen, CO. I was attending summer seminar courses at the “Center of the Eye” school and camping outside town, having a marvelous time.

    My wife and I went into town one day to view a show at the Aspen Art Museum of Henri Cartier Bresson’s work on display. Walking up to the steps of the gallery we
    saw an older gentleman with his back to us talking with another man on the steps. The man facing us said, “I’m sorry, you’ll have to come back tomorrow. The gallery is
    closed for today.” We thanked him and turned to go. He said to the other gentleman, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Henri!” I stopped dead in my tracks and thought, “If you’re ever going to do it, do it now!”

    I turned and waited for the man to walk toward me and asked, “Excuse me, are you Mr. Bresson?”

    “Yes”, he said. I asked naively if he was going to speak at the Center of The Eye where I was
    attending classes.

    He said, “Well, no. After all, what is there to say?” I said I didn’t quite understand what he meant.

    He said, “Well, you either shot the picture or you didn’t.” I was frozen in awe and asked him to go on.

    He said, “I don’t have to see a photographer’s work to know if they are any good. I just have to watch them work in front of their subject. The lens they choose, the way they stand, how they approach their subject. It’s like watching a ballet dancer at the rail. If they are any good you don’t have to see them in performance.” Well at this point I was dumb struck.

    He went on,”I don’t like to make enlargements, I just like to look at the the proof sheets to see if I got the image I was going for.”

    The next day I was walking with my wife on the streets of Aspen. It was hot. About fifteen feet ahead of us were two couples wearing plaid shirts, hiking shorts, and hiking boots. The girls were in the middle of the two guys. As the foursome meandered the street I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.

    It was him. He glided across the street and placed himself between us and the couples ahead and with the sweetest move I’ve ever seen he went up on one toe, raising his Leica to his eye and squeezed the shutter,”Snitz” went the lens. He came
    down on both feet and went back across the street, got in his car and drove away.

    I was stopped dead in my tracks and said to my wife,”Did you see that? That was the Decisive Moment!” She didn’t know what I was talking about and I spent the rest of the day explaining the concept and the fact that we had just met one of the few living masters of photography in the world.

    To this day, that experience has been one of my life changing moments which I will never forget. I left Aspen that summer with a whole new outlook on photography which I have carried forward throughout my career.

    Thanks for your time and love of the man.

    Stewart Hopkins

     
    • TBC 06-07-11 at 5:17 PM #

      Stewart,

      What a wonderful story you have shared with us. You had your own Decisive Moment, I would guess. He was an amazing inspiration to many of us. I knew his work long before I ever met him, and even then, I had not a clue that it was he whom I had met.

      Those are those special moments.

      I would guess from your story that he thought I had promise, else why would he have urged me to follow him all those many years ago?

      Again, thanks for contributing,

      Take care,

      TBC

       
  2. cindydyer 01-07-11 at 3:08 PM #

    Great story, Margo! You definitely had a “decisive moment” in meeting him. Thanks for sharing your encounter.

    Cindy

    http://www.cindydyer.wordpress.com

     
    • TBC 01-07-11 at 5:10 PM #

      Yes, Cindy, it was one of those very special memories that I will carry for life. How serendipity plays into our lives!

      Thanks for writing, and take care,

      TBC

       
  3. Tessonome 07-27-10 at 1:26 AM #

    Hi TBC,

    How LinkedIn (women in photography) works well.

    It is a lovely story … in fact a beginning for a movie.

    Nice to meet you.

    Best regards,

    Tess Jungblut
    Amsterdam, Holland

     
    • TBC 07-27-10 at 5:00 AM #

      Tess,

      Thank you. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I still marvel at that wonderful few hours. I think what made it all the sweeter is that no names were involved, just two photographers sharing a passion for making images and life!

      Take care,

      TBC

       
  4. TBC 11-20-08 at 7:04 AM #

    Q (sounds like something out of 007!),

    Thanks for the comment. It really was a lovely meeting and one that I shall always treasure. Who would have “thunk” that I would have had such a wonderful encounter?

    Take care,

    TBC

     
  5. q 11-20-08 at 4:57 AM #

    lovely story, thank you 🙂

     
  6. TBC 09-08-08 at 11:04 AM #

    Dan,

    So glad you enjoyed it, and if you are the Dan I think you are, you certainly have a great appreciation and love of photography, so this little bit of memory lane would mean so much to you.

    Take care,

    TBC

     
  7. Dan 09-08-08 at 9:18 AM #

    Wow, awesome!

     
  8. Edwin 04-12-08 at 8:10 AM #

    Terrific story Margo! Thanks for sharing.

    Les

     

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