EYEWITNESS

The soulful images of India that made Henri Cartier-Bresson an icon

Quartz india
Quartz india

In 1948, the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson came to India.

His timing was perfect: the newly-independent country was at a critical moment in its history, and Cartier-Bresson had unparalleled access to many of its key political leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru and even Mahatma Gandhi himself.

But it was the assassination of Gandhi that gave Cartier-Bresson the subject for what would become one of his most iconic photo series—including images of Gandhi in his last days, and of his body at his funeral. He captured India in mourning, photographing the historic event at close range, and producing images that would help establish his reputation as one of the pioneering photojournalists of his time.

In the following years, in between travels to other parts of the world, Cartier-Bresson returned to India several times, travelling across the country to document its different communities and cultures. His unique style of capturing everyday scenes would eventually inspire a new generation of Indian photographers, including the renowned street photographer Raghubir Singh.

On Dec. 12, several of Cartier-Bresson’s photographs of India from the private collection of his last dealer, Peter Fetterman, will go on sale as part of an auction in New York. These images, some rarely seen before, are expected to sell for between $8,000 and $16,000 each, according to Phillips, the auction house conducting the sale.

Here are some of Cartier-Bresson’s stunning images of India.

HCB, Games in a refugee camp at Kurukshetra, Punjab, India, 1947
Games in a refugee camp at Kurukshetra, Punjab, India, 1947. (Copyright Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos)
HCB, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1948
Srinagar, Kashmir, 1948. (Copyright Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos)
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Gandhi’s secretary watches the first flames of the funeral pyre, Delhi, India, 1948. (Copyright Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos)
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Funeral of the Bhagwan Sri Ramana Maharshi, Tiruvannamalai, India, 1950. (Copyright Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos)
HCB, Festivities for the 39th Birthday of the Maharajah (The diamonds once belong to Napoleon), Gujarat, Baroda [Vadodara], India, 1948, 1948
Festivities for the 39th Birthday of the Maharajah (The diamonds once belonged to Napoleon), Gujarat, Baroda (Vadodara), India, 1948. (Copyright Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos)
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Women at the Mahdum Shah Ziarat mosque, Srinagar, Kashmir, 1948. (Copyright Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos)
HCB, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India
Udaipur, Rajasthan, India, 1966. (Copyright Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos)
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Fatehpur Sikri, India, 1966. (Copyright Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos)
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