Henri Cartier-Bresson A Kite Flies, Provence, 1987. Picture: John Loengard. Courtesy of the LIFE Photo Gallery
The photographer did not like his photograph. His wife, fortunately, had a diverting prop at hand.
The famous photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, despised being photographed. However in 1987, he eventually agreed to have a portrait made for Life magazine to cover a forthcoming exhibition of his art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
John Loengard, Life’s photo editor at the era, and a respected documentary photographer, took no chance to do the portrait and named himself.
As Loengard arrived at his summer house in Provence to meet Cartier-Bresson, the master avouch that only from behind he would be captured. There’s been a little talk about this. Cartier-Bresson was a 79-year-old, Loengard remembered, “still a great teakettle. There would be a vibration and a rattling of the lid. Then just as quickly he’d quiet down and be his attentive self again.”
Cartier-Bresson proposed as a compromise that Loengard should shoot him swimming in his favorite local swimming pool, but the pool was locked when they arrived. On the way back, Cartier-Bresson stopped drawing a landscape he liked and he was photographed by Loengard, but the shot was too static.
Finally, Martine Franck, the wife and fellow photographer of Cartier-Bresson, came to the rescue. She rumbled through a cupboard to find the kite that her husband wanted to fly with their daughter about 15 years.
Just enough wind was there to carry the kite into the sky. “You might ask someone to fly a kite,” Loengard said of his portrait, a star turn in a Life photography gallery exhibition, “but you’re not asking them how to fly the kite. It’s their business how they move and what they do.
Immediately, if they do it in front of you and your camera, it gives you some information to convey to a viewer even if they make sure you don’t see their face.


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