Henri Cartier-Bresson

Contact Prints of Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson was born in 1908 and died in 2004. He was the world-famous French photographer that was considered to be the father of modern photojournalism and the master of candid photography. In April 1950, he was present in Tiruvannamalai to take the last series of photographs of the Maharshi, prior to his Mahasamadhi.

Sri Ramanasramam has in their archives a good number of the photographs he took of Bhagavan, but not all. A keen devotee has been relentlessly pursuing all the photos from the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation in Paris. He has succeeded in obtaining from the foundation a copy of contact prints of relevant photos, along with Cartier-Bresson's notes. These contact prints are small in size and contain photographs yet to be printed. The Foundation has not yet agreed to provide us with the actual prints.

On reading the contact-print notes, it becomes clear that Cartier-Bresson was caught up in the momentous occasion of Bhagavan's demise and sincerely wished to preserve it on film. He seemed frustrated in his attempts by the overwhelming crowd, proper light considerations and equipment failure. But in spite of all this, being the master of capturing decisive moments, he succeeded in what no other photographer could do: create a visual document of the final days of the Master.

Except for a few minor punctuation marks, Bresson's notes below are reproduced as he typed them. The footnotes in the text indicate the photograph described.

I flashed the Bhagwan as soon as he died while he was still in his bedroom and then while taken across to the temple and exposed there all night. When I took my first flash it created quite a sensation among the simple people from the town who were there and they stated clapping their hands on their cheeks in the religious manner. It was a kind of awe; they had never seen a flash before and at the very moment of the death of Bhagwan, some minutes before, at 8:45, they had seen a slow comet across the sky, dying out on the mountain. So they thought the comet was back in the room.

I took the next morning pix of the people digging the grave; there had been a discussion lasting all night between the brother and the different cliques about the place where the B. should be buried. The grave digging started late, and the funeral got late, and to my great distress instead of being at 2 pm as planned it got to be only at 6 pm, and no flash could catch the frenzy of the scenes. Just bad luck.

Being a realized soul, B. was going to be buried and not cremated. I took pix of Swami Mouni, one of the secretaries. He used to be a lawyer. He made then the vow of silence; now he is still begs at night for his food, he has a long beard adjoining his hair and a big cloth around his shoulders.

Major Chadwick and other disciples were chatting sitting on the wall by the side of the room of the B. He tried all the time to hide from my camera.

And another row of disciples with a well-known saintly person second to the left and quite dark skin: Yogi Ramaih.

This is from THE MAHARSHI News Letter - July / August 2008 Vol. 18 – No. 4

Ome Namo Bhagavate Sri Ramanaya