Henri Cartier-Bresson and Martine Franck: Love Through a Lens

Martine Franck in Switzerland in 1984.
Henri Cartier-Bresson—Magnum Photos
Martine Franck in Switzerland in 1984.

In a 2010 interview with Charlie Rose, photographer Martine Franck gave an insight into how she first got together with her husband, renowned Magnum founder Henri Cartier-Bresson: “Martine,” Bresson had apparently said to Franck, by way of showing his romantic interest, “I want to come and see your contact sheets.”

The feeling was obviously mutual. The two married in 1970, with Franck becoming his second wife. And while the Frenchman was 30 years her senior, they stayed together right up until his death in 2004. Franck died in 2012.

Theirs was a marriage of hearts and minds: Both were talented photographers and keen observers of the world. If Cartier-Bresson’s work was the result of what often seems like total immersion in a moment, Franck’s emerged from a quieter — some might argue a more detached — approach. He loved the streets, the vibrancy of the everyday; she liked working on the fringe — photographing communities on isolated Irish islands, for example — but also made portraits of creative giants like Marc Chagall and Seamus Heaney.

But it is through their elegant, often intimate, portraits of each other that we gain insight into a significant part of their relationship. And though Franck once told The Daily Telegraph that the two rarely discussed photography, the joy they must have felt at turning their lenses towards each other is readily evident in these portraits.

We see a poised shot of Franck in Venice as if waiting for a train, a smartly-dressed Cartier-Bresson sitting on a railing in Switzerland. Likewise, we catch a glimpse of Bresson after he has seemingly finished a self-portrait in Paris, and of Franck as she holds a cup to her mouth while reclining on a couch.

These beautiful images remind us that while, separately, the two were extraordinarily talented, understood together they were truly exceptional.


Richard Conway is a reporter for TIME LightBox


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