India : through the lens of Henri Cartier-Bresson

French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson is one of the most important & influential photographers of the 20th century. In 1947, he travelled to India to document key political events and everyday life. His photographs of 20th century India highlight a turning point in the country’s history : a newly independent country with rising hopes for itself; a people struggling to come to terms with the Partition and new identities; a nation mourning the loss of an icon (Gandhi). These photographs cemented Bresson’s reputation as ‘Father of Modern Photojournalism’. During 2017-18, the Rubin Museum of Art (New York) hosted an exhibition in association featuring 69 photographs of Bresson’s India.

Henri Cartier Bresson’s first Leica | Source: Wikimedia Commons [Corinne Moncelli]

You can say, this quote summed up Bresson’s approach to photography. Looking at his pictures, one would realize that he does not capture people of repute or political leaders as much as he candidly captures the essence of the country through it’s people.

Take a look at some photographs of 20th-century India through the lens of Henri Cartier Bresson:

Henri Cartier-Bresson travelled to India six times. In this post, we take a look at some candid moments from India of 1947-8.

1) People in an astrologer’s shop [Bombay]

astrologer shop bombay black and white henri cartier-bresson
An astrologer’s shop in the mill workers’ quarter of Parel. Bombay, Maharashtra, India • 1947. (Photo: Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos)

2) Refugee Train [Kuinkshaha, North India]

refugee train black and white henri cartier-bresson
Muslim refugee train from Delhi to Lahore, Pakistan, passing through Kuinkshaha station © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos

3) Saris drying in the sun [Kashmir]

saree srinagar women black and white henri cartier-bresson
“Women spreading out their saris before the sun” Srinagar, Kashmir, India • 1948. (Photo: Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos)

4) Kathakali : Guru teaching students [Kerala]

culture kathakali training black and white henri cartier-bresson
Kathakali dance drama. A guru teaches the stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Cheruthuruthi, Kerala, India • 1950. (Photo: Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos)

5) Maharani Sita Devi of Baroda

Maharani Sita Devi of Baroda, wearing the famed three-tiered diamond necklace of Baroda, 1948 |

6) A money changer in the market [Jaipur]

money exchangers vintage jaipur black and white henri cartier-bresson
Henri Cartier-Bresson INDIA. Jaipur. 1948

7) Pavement School [Jaipur]

jaipur wall art pavement school black and white henri cartier-bresson
Henri Cartier-Bresson, India 1948 | Source :

8) Gandhi’s funeral

death of Gandhi black and white henri cartier-bresson
Crowds gathered between Birla House and the cremation ground, throwing flowers| Delhi, India • 1948 (Photo: Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos)

Featured image : Gandhi’s cremation on the banks of the Jumna River. Delhi, India. 1948. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos

August 18 marks World Photography Day. If you enjoyed this tribute-post, don’t forget to share it ahead!

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