Henri Cartier-Bresson

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“When I had the privilege of seeing Sri Aurobindo, I had the impression that he was beyond Time...”[1]

Extract from letter, Cartier-Bresson (in Madras) to Pavitra, 13 April 1950. Translated from the French.

“I represent an association of photographers called Magnum Photos. This agency, whose headquarters are in New York, distributes our photographic reportages to the principal magazines of the world. My own reportages have appeared in Life, Harper’s Bazar, Réalités, Illustrated, etc.
…I was introduced to the works of Sri Aurobindo by the translations of Jean Herbert.…
I and my wife, who is Indonesian, wish very much to come to the Ashram for the next darshan and I would be extremely grateful to you if you could provide me with the authorization to make a photographic testimony of the life of the Ashram at the time of the darshan and during the days that precede it.”[2]

Extract from letter, Pavitra to Cartier-Bresson, 18 April 1950. Translated from the French.

“I have received your letter and shown it to the Mother. You and Madame Cartier-Bresson have been granted permission to attend the next darshan, on Monday, the 24th of April. The Mother also authorizes you to make a photographic reportage on the Ashram at this time.”[3]

Notes by Cartier-Bresson on his visit to Pondicherry and Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

“The morning after Darshan [i.e. on 25 April] I went to thank the Mother for giving me permission to take their picture at Darshan, but I told her that the conditions of the light there would make the results most unsatisfactory to the disciples who were expecting a portrait as clear as the one in circulation now. She told me that is what they wanted from me, some indistinguishable shadow of themselves; this I had fully succeeded. Mother was so helpful and she convinced Sri Aurobindo and I came in his bedroom with my camera. The room was so neat and tidy and impersonal. Sri Aurobindo did not wink an eye during the entire ten minutes I was watching him, he did not seem to belong to that impersonal setting.
I took pictures of Anu dancing, of the dining hall building, of Dr. Banerjee. More photos of the 1.30 p.m. daily ritual with the Mother. Also of her tossing flowers off the balcony. She gives out candies (very good ones too) to the gymnastiques [sic]. Mother sleeps only 3 or 4 hours a night. The very nice Bengali gentleman who was taking us around, referred often to Mother’s trances such as: “Mother is not coming down now, she might still be in a trance.”
I took pictures of Pondicherry streets at a time when most of the disciples were indoors and the streets were full of heat and silence. I took color shots too in Kodachrome. I took pictures of Nolini Gupta, the Secretary of the Ashram at 5 p.m. I took pictures of the daily tennis game. I took pictures of Pranab, a young strong Bengali Director of Physical Culture in the Ashram. He is one of the persons closest to the Mother. I took pictures of Pavitra, he is a calm person of great affability and kindness.
While children were doing gymnastics Mother in a little room by the Playground was giving a French lesson to some pupils. They were analysing a text; Mother was asking them what is the difference between success and perfection.”[4]

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