Building on an Artist’s Words; developing a visual concept for Henri Cartier-Bresson The Modern Century


Henri Cartier-Bresson was a leading voice in the art of 20th century photographic storytelling. Second Story’s challenge was to create a website that celebrates his rich, evocative portfolio in a way that was accessible to a broad swath of online visitors and could work, with minimal changes, as an interactive in-museum kiosk.

I like to start out every project by learning as much about the subject matter possible. The length and depth of the research process varies from project to project. The Henri Cartier-Bresson website had limited time for research because of its quick turn-around, but the helpful team at MoMA provided us with a draft of the exhibit catalogue to use as the foundation for our understanding of the goals and narratives of the exhibition.

A few quotes by Henri Cartier-Bresson jumped out at me;

“I’ve never been interested in the process of photography, never, never. Right from the beginning. For me, photography with a small camera like the Leica is an instant drawing.” Henri Cartier-Bresson

The more I read about Henri Cartier-Bresson’s personal philosophy on photography, the clearer it became to me that Cartier-Bresson placed artistic emphasis on the moment captured by his camera, not the process or person behind it.

“Actually, I’m not all that interested in the subject of photography. Once the picture is in the box, I’m not all that interested in what happens next. Hunters, after all, aren’t cooks.”

He was an artist who sought anonymity during the act of creation, wrapping his Leica camera in black taps so the shine of metal wouldn’t give him away.

It was clear from early on that the aesthetic of the interactive exhibit needed to reflect Henri Cartier-Bresson’s emphasis on the raw photographic moment captured, rather than any sort of filter or stylistic interpretation.


The design solution was a clean, white, space for the photographs to live on. The photographs fill up the majority of the space, date, title, theme, audio and captions appear to the left, also on white so they feel related but are sized down so they won’t compete for importance.


The main methods of navigation, appeared in dark grey rectangles to differentiate the content they contained, and their voice from the photographs. The left and right placement of these rectangles creates a horizon line that keeps the photographs from feeling like they are floating.


The color pallet is in the same muted range as the exhibit with the exception of a blue accent color for rollovers and text links.

The website was designed to scale from 1024X768 safe (950X560) to 1280X1024. The photographs were designed to scale, so they would always be the most prominent item on screen.


See more at Second Story or at the exhibit site.

Matt Sundstrom, Interaction Designer


Second Story creates enchanting, informative, and entertaining media experiences with innovative technologies that empower connections to ideas.

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