Coronation of King George VI

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Henri Cartier-Bresson took this picture in Trafalgar Square on King George VI’s coronation day on 12th May 1937. It was a difficult time for the British Public–the previous year saw the death of King George V and the abdication crisis of Edward VIII. The furore over Mrs. Wallis Simpson had settled down, but visible scars remained.

It was the occasion where Cartier-Bresson first made his name as a photojournalist. He covered the coronation for the French weekly Regard, which was displeased that ‘Cartier’ (his original nom de plume) did not take any picture of the king or the carriage. Instead, in above photo, Cartier-Bresson focused his photo not only on this jubilant public (who apparently left the discontent of last winter) but also on the sleeping man, who like many others above him had waited overnight, and was now missing the coronation procession. In this sense, Cartier-Bresson’s camera missed the carriage too, but for him, the importance lies not with the casket but with the people diverse, but united. It was his way of portraying history–mourning crowds, cheering mobs, frail old men, dancing girls–his lens saw the people who saw history.