Gandhi’s death wasn’t the only history-making moment that Cartier-Bresson witnessed during his three-year sojourn in Asia. In addition to photographing Indonesia just after its independence from Dutch rule, he spent 10 months in China during the final year of its civil war, as the nationalist Kuomintang government lost its power and the communist People’s Republic of China began a new era.
In his nomadic life, Cartier-Bresson witnessed a fragile world in a state of flux, emerging from global war and transitions of power. Yet he gave as much import to the everyday people who passed in front of his lens as he did to the leaders who spurred momentous change. All subjects were ephemeral, each with its own decisive moment.
“Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing,” he once mused, “and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.”