The exhibition presents the shots taken by Cartier-Bresson during his journeys to China. In 1948, “Life” magazine commissioned the French photographer to report on the “last days of Beijing” before the arrival of Mao’s troops. The planned two-week stay lasted ten months instead.
During his staying, Cartier-Bresson documented the fall of Nanjing, ruled by the Kuomintang, and he remained for four months in Shanghai, leaving the country just days before the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China (Oct. 1, 1949). Bresson’s reportage became extremely popular and he was seen as one of the innovators of the history of photojournalism. The Frenchman’s style was innovative, less tied to events, more poetic and detached, attentive as much to the subjects portrayed as to the formal balance of the composition.
Ten years later, in 1958, Cartier-Bresson went on the road again, this time in an entirely different situation: for four months, obligatorily accompanied by a guide, he traveled thousands of kilometers in China to visit selected locations, steel complexes, large dams under construction, oil wells, and rural villages born out of the wake of the “Great Leap Forward.” The aim was to document the outcomes of the Revolution and the forced industrialization of rural regions. In his photographs, Bresson also shows the drawbacks: the exploitation of human labor, military control, the omnipresence of propaganda. Once again, the 1958 China reportage had great editorial success, with publications planned on an international scale. Bresson’s work had such a relevance that it marked Western imagery relating to Mao’s China until the 1970s.