Although he would later be feted as the father of photojournalism, Henry Cartier-Bresson was at his best when he was taking photos which didn’t ‘report’ anything — men in Parisian streets, sunbathers whether they be at Peter and Paul fortress or Coney Island. At the first glance, the above picture — one of Cartier-Bresson’s most famous — seems exactly like it: languorous workers in Juvisny spending a lazy afternoon on the bank of River Marne.
In fact, it was one of the photos Cartier-Bresson took during his first (and last) salaried job with the Parisian leftwing newspaper, Ce Soir in 1937. The assignment was for a campaign to win more vacation time for workers, and his editors hated the self-indulgent poses (picnic baskets, wines and all that) and the final spread on the story didn’t use the photo. The photo has been since been compared to paintings by Degas and Seurat. Cartier-Bresson who never named any of his photos would have been content with one title given by critics, Sunday on the Banks of Marne. Originally trained as a painter, Cartier-Bresson remained devoted to painting his entire life, and retired from photography to paint at the apex of his career.