What makes color photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson so rare?
There’s a reason, it turns out, why coming across his color photos can be so jarring; not only did Cartier-Bresson infrequently shoot in color, but he destroyed virtually all of his color negatives, leaving an almost exclusively black-and-white legacy to future generations. Finding out that Cartier-Bresson shot professionally in color — and sometimes worked on major assignments in color — is a bit like reading Just Kids and learning that Patti Smith is not only a poet, but a thrilling, moving, utterly masterful writer of prose. One has a sense of happy surprise and, somehow, of enlargement.
One of Cartier-Bresson’s most significant color projects was a 1958 assignment for LIFE: a four-month, 7,000 mile tour through communist China during that country’s convulsive “great leap forward,” when the huge, ancient nation was being alternately pushed and pulled, dragged and harried by its leaders to leave its past behind and to embrace industrialization, collectivism and the precepts of Chairman Mao.
See the layouts from this photo essay here.