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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Decisive Moment, 1952

I've also just posted for sale a very nice copy of one of the great iconic photographic books, Henri Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment. Published in 1952 with a cover by Henri Matisse, it heralded the then-new era of 35mm as the prevailing international style of photojournalism and documentary photography. Printed in very fine gravure, seminal in its time, widely known even outside of the photographic world, it remains a marvelous and satisfying book today.

Unfortunately, the binding of the book is fragile and the paper used for the dust jacket was not up to the standard of the much nicer paper used in the book itself, so the book is almost always seen these days in a condition that booksellers nicely describe as "dilapidated." I've seen them with the spine coming apart, chunks missing from the spine itself, one board missing, without dust jackets, or with dust jackets in every imaginable stage of decay and disintegration. Also, the book originally came with a separate caption booklet which, as you can imagine, is often missing. And even despite all this, such copies remain valuable, because of the book's importance, beauty, and rarity.

Unlike many great photographic books, it's never been reprinted. I have no idea why, except perhaps Cartier-Bresson didn't want it to be—or perhaps no publisher can secure permission to reproduce the Matisse cover, I don't know. But even if it ever is reprinted, it's doubtful that a new printing would match the original gravure plates. It might be as good, only different. Gravure, which I love, is gorgeous, but it's also expensive and difficult and, while not quite a "lost art," it's seldom practiced any more.

This book doesn't belong to me—I'm selling it for an artist who lives on Martha's Vineyard. Although not perfect, this copy is whole and sound, and thus in much better condition than is commonly encountered. It's not cheap, but then, it shouldn't be. I know I've seen worse copies selling for considerably more. You don't need this book to see Cartier-Bresson's work, but as an original artifact of bookmaking and of 20th century photography it's a bonafide masterpiece.


UPDATE: Sold for $1595, a good deal if I do say.


Blogger dxphoto said...

I have read this book, very classic printing. Also the writing at the beginning and the end were wonderful!! To bat they never reprinted it. Anyone knows why??

3:05 PM  

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