Henri Cartier-Bresson, "A Propos de Paris"
I've recently added Henri Cartier-Bresson's "A Propos de Paris" to my slowly growing collection of what I call photography portfolios - that is, collections of images by a particular photographer rather than books about photographic technique. I was looking for an opportunity to sample his work before deciding whether to invest in his definitive portfolio, "Henri Cartier-Bresson - Photographer". My copy is the Bulfinch Press first paperback edition (1998), which was purchased second hand.
The quality of the reproductions is good. Perhaps not excellent (my criterion for excellence has become considerably stricter since I received my copy of "Edward Weston Life Work"), but quite appropriate to 35mm photo-journalism. Photographs are reproduced one per page, with none straddling two pages (which I absolutely hate because the gutter invariably ruins the print). There is slight print-through from the picture on the other side of the page, but not sufficient to be problematic.
I found the introductory essay by Vera Feyder somewhat pretentious and not terribly informative. I preferred the shorter piece at the end of the book by Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues which was written about the 1984 exhibition "Paris at a Glance", the inspiration for the book.
The photographs include some that I love. Two old women talking animatedly on the street while a dog that one of them has on a leash stands on its hind legs a though it, too, wishes to partake (plate 9); two lovers kissing at a pavement cafe while their dog looks on (plate 15); the well known photograph of a boy triumphantly carrying two bottles of wine (plate 16); "Les Halles, 1952" (plate 22); A smiling mother standing in the open door of a houseboat shows her baby off to a young man that has become my personal favourite (plate 24); "Porte d'Aubervilliers (1932)" (plate 32); "View from the Towers of Notre-Dame, 1955" (plate 58); "Champs-Elysees, May 1968" (plate 70); the view of a river band with sinuous curving trees (plate 74); "Behind the scenes at the Christian Dior Fashion Show, 1951" (plate 88); the silhouetted skyline with the Eiffel Tower and a factory belching smoke (plate 103); "Alberto Giocometti, 1961" (plate 104).
However these gems proved the exception rather than the rule, with a greater number of photographs that did not speak to me in any way. Perhaps this is because I am too remote from the historical period, and do not know much about the times of the massed riot police in plate 43 or the political slogans held aloft in plate 71, and the burning pile (rubbish? books? - I do not know) in plate 69; who is addressing the crowds in plates 67 and 68; and did not live through the turmoil of the second world war (plate 76). It does not help that many of the photographs are untitled, or have only a place name for a title, which does little to supply the context I am missing. Which of course is not to say that they are not excellent photographs or that they would not speak powerfully to somebody else.
I'm pleased that I have this book in my collection. It is not as close a fit to my taste as most of the others that I have acquired, but contains some delightful images and those which I do not presently feel an affinity to may yet serve to educate me both photographically and historically.