Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908–2004)
Gelatin silver print
9 13/16 x 14 9/16 in. (25 x 37 cm)
Purchase, Evelene and Robert Wechsler Gift and Charina Foundation Inc. Gift, 2002 (2002.419)
© Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos
In December 1948, Life magazine sent Cartier-Bresson to China to document the turbulent transition from Kuomintang to Communist rule. This photograph captures the pandemonium incited by the currency crash of that month, when the value of paper money plummeted and the Kuomintang decided to distribute forty grams of gold per person. Thousands waited in line for hours as the police made only a token gesture toward maintaining order, resulting in ten deaths by suffocation. Cartier-Bresson deftly captured the desperation and claustrophobia of the scene by compressing the mass of people within a tight frame as they propelled themselves toward the bank building just beyond the right edge of the picture.