New York. Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photographs are of some of the most epic events of the last century, beautifully printed in black-and-white. The vast majority of those gelatin silver prints were made by one man between 1967 and 1997. He was Voja Mitrovic, a master printer at Paris’ celebrated Picto photo lab.
Over the years, Cartier-Bresson presented Mitrovic with 28 signed and inscribed prints, some rarely seen by the public — until now.
Christie’s is auctioning the prints, plus four other Cartier-Bresson-signed prints, on Oct. 4-5. The auction house believes they will fetch more than $400,000.
Cartier-Bresson, who died in 2004 at age 95, has been called one of the most talented photographers who ever lived, celebrated for what he called “the decisive moment” — moments from the Spanish Civil War, the liberation of the Nazi camps and the funeral of Mahatma Gandhi. He also captured scenes of everyday life and shot countless portraits of luminaries including Henri Matisse, William Faulkner and George Balanchine.
The prints at Christie’s are offered for sale by award-winning photojournalist Peter Turnley, who acquired the prints from Mitrovic in 2004 shortly after Cartier-Bresson’s death.
“Whenever Voja would print an exhibition or print for a book or print for a collection, Cartier-Bresson would ask him to choose a photograph that he liked so he could sign it and inscribe it to him,” said Turnley, who first met the “very tall, elegant and handsome Yogoslav” while working with him at Picto from 1978 to 1980.
The prints include rare images like “Friday Prayer, Srinagar, Kashmir” at the Mahdum Shah Ziarat mosque, which could bring $25,000 to $35,000.
In all the time that Mitrovic printed for the French photographer he “couldn’t remember Cartier-Bresson ever asking him to redo a print,” Turnley said.
It was also at Pitco where Turnley first encountered Cartier-Bresson for the first time — a man who left an indelible impression on him and his work.
“I couldn’t overstate the degree to which Cartier-Bresson’s expression has influenced my life,” said Turnley, who has photographed the human condition around the world and has been featured on the covers of numerous magazines.
Turnley developed lasting friendships with both men, and after his career took off, Mitrovic printed Turnley’s work as well.
Mitrovic is “probably the greatest black-and-white printer in the history of photography,” who also printed for the likes of Helmut Newton, Man Ray, Josef Koudelka and other masters of photography, he said.
The public will “become even more aware of the important contribution that a great photographic printer can make to the visual and artistic expression of a photographer,” Turnley said. “This is both a story and a collection of fabulous prints that are coming out of the shadow.”
Mitrovic offered Turnley the chance to acquire the collection in 2004 because he knew “I would preserve not only the collection but also this beautiful story of his relationship with Cartier-Bresson,” he said.
Turnley said he spoke with the 75-year-old Mitrovic last week and “he’s very excited that the world of photography, will have a chance to come in contact with these prints.”
They also include some of Cartier-Bresson’s other iconic and sought-after compositions, including “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, France” estimated to sell for between $30,000 to $50,000, and an image of a young boy proudly carrying two magnums of wine under his arms, estimated at $20,000 to $30,000.