Martine Franck, wife of the late Henri Cartier-Bresson, and one of the few female members of the exclusive Magnum Photos cooperative, refuses to divulge her age. “When I joined Magnum, I met Eve Arnold, an American photojournalist, and the one thing she told me was to never give my age because after a certain time, people won’t give you work. She is 95 now. When I turn 90, I’ll tell you,” says Franck laughing.
Franck caught the photography bug when she was 25. She had studied to be an art historian but soon discovered that she did not much care for writing about art. After a break to east Asia with a borrowed Leica, Franck came back with a new will to explore the world through the camera lens. “The contact you have with people draws me to photography. The camera gives me a reason to be there,” says the Belgian photographer who believes that compassion is the key to good photographs. “You have to be able to try and feel what your subject is feeling, and put yourself in their place.”
Though not a war photographer, Franck has often found herself in tough situations. As a photographer for the International Red Cross, she was sent to the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, and stationed at a hospital for causalities of war. Once there, she was urged by some soldiers to visit a young man who had lost both his arms and legs.
“Everyone told me to take his picture. But I just couldn’t do it. It was just so tragic what had happened to him.”
Today Franck does regret not taking the picture, but she understands why she didn’t take it at the time. “Maybe today I could do it, as I am tougher,” she says. “Sometimes you just veto yourself.”
Franck was Bresson’s second wife and married him despite a 30-year age gap. She is the president and co-founder of the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation. She feels that whatever influence he had on her art was for the better. “He was so famous and we had a big age difference, but he was also generous. Obviously I was a little overshadowed but not to the extent that I couldn’t exist as my own person,” she says.
We asked Franck to name her five favourite images of the subcontinent.
1) Panoramic shot of Benaras by Raghu Rai
In this picture, Raghu Rai manages to get the entire shot of Benaras. Everything is in place. He summed up everything with one image. This is what Benaras is like.
2) Amedabad by Henri Cartier-Bresson
This is an image of the saris drying on the riverbed in Ahmedabad. It’s a very beautiful picture. Just the composition is so great.
3) The death of Gandhi series by Henri Cartier-Bresson
This is historic and personal as well. Through the crowds seen in the picture you realise how moved everybody was by his death.
4) Mother and Daughter by Dayanita Singh
These are two generations of people. These pictures tell us a lot about the way people live in India. It also shows us how generations relate to each other.
5) The Maharaja series with the Alkazi foundation
What Alkazi has done is so important. He has preserved the heritage of photography. Thanks to him in large measure, it is known that photography and especially art photography in India started very early.
Franck’s photographs can currently be seen at Art Musings Gallery, Mumbai until 21June. Prices range from Rs85,000 to Rs1,50,000.