PRINT October 1987


A CENTRAL PURPOSE behind the vast majority of photographs—particularly in such mass-distribution forms as advertising and newspaper photography—is to define a communal perception of reality. This process is both reassuring and coercive, with the photographs implicitly urging that we accept the version of reality they propose and therefore explicitly delineating the boundaries of what is “normal.” Photography as it is usually practiced is reassuring (and oppressive) in another way as well—it repeats and seems to certify unchanging verities of narrative, of the nature of the world, of the varieties of human character and incident.

It is from their unrelenting, sometimes subtle and sometimes blunt contradiction of this web of expectation and purpose that the early photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson—presented this fall at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in a significant exhibition curated

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