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Photo Synthesis

Mexico City (1934)

October 08, 2006|Colin Westerbeck

"Eye of the Beholder: Photographs from the Collection of Richard Avedon" is on view at Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco through Nov. 25.

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This image was made long before Henri Cartier-Bresson became the world's most famous photojournalist, after World War II. In 1934, he was a 26-year-old boy genius rebelling against everything for which his wealthy family stood. That's why he and the Surrealists hit it off, because they too were in favor of impulse, instinct and the exploration of the unconscious as ways to undermine the bourgeoisie.

"An agitated dragonfly" is how Truman Capote later described the photographer. The newly invented 35mm camera became in his hands an extension of the senses. It permitted him to fix what only his lightning reflexes and darting eyes could see. But around when Surrealism encouraged him to wing it with his Leica, he also took lessons from a classic Cubist painter, and it was the unlikely combination of these two incompatible influences that really set him free. He became to photography what Picasso, who also reconciled Cubism with Surrealism, was to painting.

A universal vision was needed to spot, as this photograph does, the grace of ballet amid the squalor of poverty. The whole scene is enclosed in a shadow just as the two women are in their intimacy. Cartier-Bresson was beginning to write with a camera the poetry that millions would ultimately see in his images.

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