Although the three legends had distinct styles, each trained his lens on the daily life of the everyday man caught in a society in flux. For Evans, this led him toward the picturesque but poor side of a restive Havana in 1933, as well as late-'20s New York City. Though the city was booming, Evans was filled with ambivalence about a metropolis where billboards and skyscrapers jarred with the lowlife of the city's drifters. Torn Movie Poster, for example, captures Evans' wider sense of national doom: a mass-produced image tarnished with decay. The exhibition also shows off Evans' study of architecture in the American South.
For Alvarez Bravo, it was Mexico City's postrevolution population boom in the '20s that afforded perfectly constructed images of street life, or what the photographer dubbed the "food for my camera." The ordinary soon became the fantastic, as Alvarez Bravo drew reverie from his subjects. He captured the pensive young girl on a balcony in The Daydream, a picture of longing, with the ray of sunlight brushing her shoulder as if singling her out. And Alvarez Bravo even managed to instill life into still life: in Laughing Mannequins, glamorous cardboard women appear smiling, while it's the real people in the image that lack life. The same is true in Cartier-Bresson's Barrio Chino, in which a smiling face chalked on the wall eclipses a spent man below. Before he died, Cartier-Bresson had a final look at his images for the exhibit, taking in his surrealism-influenced shots of Mexico and unselfconscious images of Europe, such as the ambiguous mutual grooming outside a brothel in an image titled Alicante. That last look, says Agnès Sire, director of the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, "made him very happy."
The exhibition runs through Dec. 19, before traveling to the Musée de l'Elysée, Lausanne, in February. For information, go to: www.henricartierbresson.org