Distant India in a Distant Time


Muslim refugees on a train from Delhi to Lahore, 1947 — Click to enlarge

Henri Cartier-Bresson is perhaps the most well-known photographer in India, or rather—an important distinction—the photographer whose work is most well-known. He first visited India in the fall of 1947. One of only two Western photographers granted access to Gandhi, Cartier-Bresson shot a series of portraits of the ailing leader the week before he was killed by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu chauvinist, in January 1948. Cartier-Bresson then covered Gandhi’s funeral and the national mourning that followed.

First published in Life magazine, these photos brought Cartier-Bresson worldwide recognition. They were also widely reproduced in India, and are today so familiar there that his authorship is usually forgotten. The same is true of many quieter, more tableaux-like photos he took on subsequent visits in 1950, 1966, and 1980. In “Henri Cartier-Bresson: India in Full Frame,” the Rubin Museum brings together selections from each of these trips.

Whether the Rubin Museum is an easy trip – or not likely – this article is worth the read. History comes alive. The photographer’s eye is well understood. We learn, we learn more.

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