Two coronations ago, Henri Cartier-Bresson was there to capture all the action. This charming book captures the ordinary folk at the heart of it all, finds Amy Davies.
When we think of Cartier-Bresson, we don’t tend to think of pictures of royalty – that’s more the domain of the Cecil Beatons and the Richard Avedons of this world. So it came as a bit of a surprise to find a book celebrating the coronation of George VI – a canny release on the eve of his grandson’s upcoming coronation.
George VI’s big day took place on 12 May 1937 and then – like now – it was one of the biggest media events of the time. Other photographers concentrated their efforts on the main man himself, his family and the associated pageantry, but Cartier-Bresson being Cartier-Bresson instead focused on the crowds of ordinary people gathered on the streets of London to watch the processions.
What results is a witty and warm look at those who made the journey to celebrate. We see regular folk from all walks of life straining to get a better view of the royal family via cardboard periscopes, mirrors on sticks and climbing atop well-known monuments. Interestingly, in accordance with Cartier-Bresson’s wishes, no prints have been made of his work since his death in 2004.
Additionally, in 1939, he destroyed some of his negatives and made selections from his archive. Several photographs from the coronation of George VI survived as prints, but those negatives are gone. Any negatives which did survive never had prints made from them. In the book we therefore see reproductions of photographs printed during Bresson’s lifetime, with some small-format scans of negatives which are now conserved in the archives of the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson.
The pictures are presented alongside contemporary news clippings, showing you the difference in having a street photographer’s eye on the scene. Also, an essay by Clément Chéroux, chief curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, puts the work in historical and photographic context.
If you’re a Cartier-Bresson completist, or are interested in royal history, this is a fantastic addition to your bookshelves.
Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Other Coronation
Price: $58 / £45
Thames & Hudson, hardback, 128 pages, ISBN: 9780500027240
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