Disputed borders, refugees, charismatic leaders, assassinations—the India of the mid-century does not sound so distant from the world today. It was a time and place captured expertly and in great depth by the pioneering photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004).
In 1947 Cartier-Bresson co-founded the internationally renowned cooperative photographic agency Magnum Photos. Later that same year he undertook his first trip to India as part of a three-year stay in Asia. At the time, India was undergoing a massive political transition, having gained independence from British colonial rule and been partitioned from Pakistan. In January 1948 Cartier-Bresson traveled to Delhi to meet with one of the key players in that transition, India’s great leader Mahatma Gandhi. It would be one of Gandhi’s final meetings before the leader’s assassination at the hands of a Hindu nationalist on January 30.
The resulting photos of Gandhi’s last day of life and the events surrounding his funeral, which helped catapult Cartier-Bresson to international fame, are part of a selection of 69 photographs from the photographer’s travels to India shared in the exhibition. They reflect his abiding interest in the people and sites of India, including some examples of his “street photography” style that has influenced generations of photographers. Together they illustrate a master photographer’s perspective on transformative moments in Indian history.