Henri Cartier–Bresson (French, 19082004)
Gelatin silver print; 7 11/16 x 11 1/2 in. (19.6 x 29.2 cm)
Gilman Collection, Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew W. Saul Gift, 2005 (2005.100.164)
The advent of small, fast, hand-held cameras allowed photographers to work with spontaneity, intuition, and accuracy. It also encouraged access to locations previously too dangerous or too difficult to enter with larger, slower cameras. The bullring was one such environment, from which even the most adventurous and athletic photographers had steered clear.
This photograph shows the inside doors of the Valencia arena from the vantage point of the bull; to make this picture of an attendant watching the action from a small rectangular window, Cartier-Bresson entered the ring. The complex composition reflects the influence of Cubism on the artist's work. All the major structural elements are fragmented: the arena doors are ajar, splitting the concentric rings into arcs and the number 7 into two abstract forms; the foreground figure is, in effect, beheaded by the door, his body linked to a faceless counterpart wearing identical clothing; even the attendant's circular glasses are awry, one lens catching the light, the other remaining transparent. The picture as a whole illustrates the avant-garde theory of simultaneous multiple vision and is a sophisticated critique of the bull's-eye school of photographic composition.
Through photographs such as this one, Cartier-Bresson forces the viewer to accept the disjunctive and mysterious as part of the modern experience of the world; we can never close the door, align the rings, reconstruct the numeral, or clear the attendant's vision.