Why New Jersey?

Copyright © The Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation / Magnum
Copyright © The Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation / Magnum

In 1975, Henri Cartier-Bresson came to the United States to photograph, of all places, New Jersey, at the invitation of Jaune Evans, a producer for “Assignment America,” a television show on the public-broadcasting station WNET. Looking back on the experience, Peter Cunningham, Evans’ partner and Cartier-Bresson’s assistant for the project, recalls his impression of New Jersey at the time: “It was a no-past, no-future state of existence.” It’s an apt description that resonates with my own memories growing up there, navigating the gravitational pull between Philadelphia and New York.

Writing for the New Yorker celebrating the re-emergence of Cartier-Bresson’s New Jersey photographs nearly fifty years later, Zach Helfand points out:

Down the shore that month, Bruce Springsteen was agonizing over what would become “Born to Run.” The two artists conjured a similar mythology: asphalt and steel, operatic death on dirty streets, traps and escape. Cartier-Bresson also found humor—two men wearing the same suit, a gaggle of disembodied mannequin heads. By coincidence, Cunningham had been working as a photographer for Springsteen. “In a way, this year, 1975, was Jersey’s birthing year,” Cunningham told me.

I don’t know if 1975 was New Jersey’s “birthing year,” but I appreciate the image of Springsteen and Cartier-Bresson driving the same highways and rural routes, breathing the same salty air, and thinking about and documenting the State of New Jersey, an overlooked and unassuming microcosm of America.

(via Jason Kottke)