Street Life According to the Master of Candid Photography in Life is Once, Forever

The Menil Collection takes a look at the past through the lens of a legend.

By Leah Rose March 21, 2016

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Shangai (Shanghai), 1949

At the Menil Collection, the sleek and storied art museum offers a snapshot into the extensive street photography collection of Henri Cartier-Bresson. The exhibit, Life is Once, Forever, features 38 images from illustrious photographer, who has been dubbed the master of candid photography.

“Nobody does it better,” says curator Toby Kamps. “He had this uncanny ability to see intricate compositions and storylines [of everyday life] and frame them just right.”

Cartier-Bresson is no stranger to the Menil. In the late 1970s, John and Dominique de Menil encouraged friends to review his work, in order “to group his very best images that could be stored around the world,” says Kamps. “He did take a lot of pictures in their house, very intimate photos of his friends, but they’re not in the show.”

Rather, Kamps focused on representing “the spirit of this archive,” which are street shots mostly from the master collection. But in a day and age dominated by selfie sticks and constant social media postings, Kamps narrowed down the exhibit to expound on the simplicity of a candid image.

“There was an innocence when he started exploring those small corners of life,” Kamps says, “[those] corner-of-the-eye poetic things.”

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Valencia (Valence), 1933

The exhibit shows some of Houston and Galveston’s streets from the middle of the last century. These images are an addition to the master collection, courtesy of the Menil.

Cartier-Bresson brought his serendipity to Houston’s iconic features like a mother and son standing on the edge of a newly opened Highway 45 and a dog, paws hitched on a chain-link fence, with an oil rig in the background.

“Talk about nostalgia. A black and white photograph of something taken 30 or 40 years ago…of places and people and ways of life that have all vanished,” added Kamps.

Thru July 24. Menil Collection, 1533 Sul Ross St. 713-525-9400.

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