A letter from the photographer in the MIA files reveals that Cartier-Bresson’s notion of the decisive moment was not about perfection of the photographic negative, the material basis of the photographic image.
In 1995, Ted Hartwell, the MIA’s founding curator of photography, was in the midst of purchasing 39 works by Cartier-Bresson. Standard museum practice requires that a registrar review the condition of the prints. When the prints arrived, a young registrar noted that he saw several imperfections on the photographs’ surfaces. When Cartier-Bresson received a report of this, he had a very different perspective:
“I am taking all your remarks extremely seriously, with one exception: when you mention
‘touch up spots.’ Films are like human beings, only babies have no wrinkles, and you can’t expect negatives shot fifty or sixty years ago, with all their authenticity, not to have little spots to be retouched.”