Opposites Attract

It was a radical idea: to have the German-born Helmut Newton, known for his erotic and extremely composed photographs, shoot NEWSWEEK's portrait of Cartier-Bresson, master of the wholly natural Decisive Moment. Would it happen? Cartier-Bresson loathes having his picture taken, and when he must, he insists the photographer be a member of Magnum, the cooperative he cofounded half a century ago. Newton is not.

Yet the pair met up in Paris last week for the shoot. "He looked good, very good," says Newton, 83. "He did everything I wanted, and was so sweet. I shot two rolls in color because he has very beautiful blue eyes, and four of black-and-white, because, being Cartier-Bresson, it has to be black-and-white."

Though their approaches are so different, Newton has long admired Cartier-Bresson. "His pictures are about truth," Newton says. "Real people, like the picnic by the Marne. I like that one best." They first encountered each other 25 or 30 years ago, in a Paris cafe. "I felt he turned his nose up at me," Newton recalls. A few years later Newton said in a television interview that, although he loved Cartier-Bresson's work, he believed the feelings were not mutual. Soon after, Newton received a postcard from Cartier-Bresson. It read: "I like you very much."

Newton finally saw Cartier-Bresson again last year, when Vanity Fair asked Cartier-Bresson to shoot a portrait of Newton for a portfolio by photographers older than 80. Cartier-Bresson invited Newton and his wife, June (known by her nom de camera, Alice Springs), for lunch at his flat in the rue de Rivoli. ("It was delicious. Henri has the most marvelous Moroccan cook.") Then they walked to a nearby park to take the picture. "He had his little Leica," Newton remembers, "and he simply would point and shoot." Since Cartier-Bresson's hand isn't as steady as it used to be, some of the pictures were a bit fuzzy. "Sharpness," he told Newton, "is a bourgeois concept." Newton sits back and laughs: "I thought that was just divine."

Opposites Attract | News