Cartier-Bresson's heirs bring colour to Somerset House

Nov 13, 2012

New show, A Question of Colour, reveals master street photographer's enduring influence

Ernst Haas

What you need to know
A new photography exhibition, Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour, has opened at Somerset House. Curated by photography writer William Ewing, the exhibition looks at celebrated French street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson's influence on contemporary photography.

Despite Cartier-Bresson's well-documented preference for shooting in black and white, photographers around the world have adapted his "decisive moment" approach to their colour photography.

The show features 10 Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs never before exhibited in the UK alongside more than 75 works by celebrated international photographers including Karl Baden, Ernst Haas, Alex Webb, Andy Freeburg, Helen Levitt, Melanie Einzig, Boris Savelev, Joel Meyerowitz and Trent Parke.

Until 27 January 2013.

What the critics like
This exhibition sets up visual conversations between Bresson's monochrome images and the "sumptuously bright" works of his heirs, says Sue Steward in the Evening Standard. Cartier-Bresson's enduring influence threads through the street scenes, but the use of colour, such as Ernst Haas's  "gorgeous poetic colour harmonies", challenges Cartier-Bresson's dedication to black and white.

The richness of the colour photographs certainly "reflects the overloaded world we live in", says Sean O'Hagan in The Guardian, but Cartier-Bresson's black-and-white photographs, "seem more timeless, resonant – silent".

The contemporary work selected has a zappy, pop-cultural sensibility, says Alastair Sooke in The Daily Telegraph. Together, these photographers feel optimistic, gung-ho, and full of life. "You'd have to be dead not to feed off the energy contained within this exhibition."

What they don't like
The title of this exhibition is slightly misleading, says Nancy Durrant in The Times. It isn't really about Cartier-Bresson, but "about how wrong he was in his views on one thing: colour". It includes a few cheeky examples of his use of colour in commercial work – "they're not very good".

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