1947 found Henri Cartier-Bresson in India to document her independence. As the result of several years’ close friendship with Mahatma Gandhi, his family and closest friends, Cartier-Bresson was easily granted a photo session with Gandhi (something not all photographers can hope for). As soon as Gandhi broke his last fast, Cartier-Bresson managed to photograph Gandhi. Among these photos, which he took for LIFE, was the last photo taken of Gandhi when he was alive.
Fifteen minutes after HCB took this picture and left Gandhi’s Brila House, he heard shouts that Gandhi had been assassinated. He ran back and took the pictures of Gandhi’s family at his deathbed. However, the most emotional picture of the night is yet to come—the above picture that carried with it the cries and wails of the entire subcontinent. That night, visibly shocked Prime Minister of India, Mr. Nehru would announce the death of Mahatma Gandhi to the crowd outside his home.
Cartier-Bresson vividly remembered how he came to possess this iconic image. There was an anguished mob outside the Brila House, he recounted, and he took that picture at ¼ s., at I.5, by holding his breath. It was an extremely challenging shot for the photographer who never used flash. The photo was an accurate reflection of the moment that could be called the Hindu Götterdämmerung. Nehru’s face appeared slightly blurred, the face of an English officer sitting next to him was half-lit, while ghastly lights beamed at the camera from various directions. It is as if Cartier-Bresson’s Leica had captured the great Gothic moment our limited human mind cannot fathom.