Natcho Aguirre, Santa Clara
This photograph, shot during a trip to Mexico in 1934, exemplifies the heavy influence of Surrealism on Cartier-Bresson's work, an influence that endured, resurfacing at times as late as the 1960s. In the late 1920s, the young artist had spent time at the cafés on the Place Blanche in the bohemian area of Montmartre in Paris. While he admitted that, at the time, he had been "too shy and too young to talk," he absorbed a great deal and retained some of the major themes of the Surrealists such as bodies deformed or in fragments - disembodied limbs, heads, torsos, mannequins, wrapped or otherwise obscured objects, and often bizarre juxtapositions of unrelated objects.
Like the Surrealist painters, Cartier-Bresson's Surrealist photographs are perplexing and, in some cases, disturbing visual games intended to provoke the subconscious mind to make connections that are deeply personal. The erotic nature of this work, captures the "convulsive beauty" espoused by Surrealist leader, Andre Breton. The half-naked man who seems to be writhing free of the remainder of his clothing could be contorting himself in either agony or ecstasy - the ambiguity is what makes the image, at least in part, so deeply unsettling. There is something Christ-like in the crossed arms, conveying suffering or conversely, a peculiar sort of intimate, self-embracing.
Inexplicably, the shoes take on a significance because of their displacement. Cast off and ordinary, in the context of this image, juxtaposed with the mysterious male torso, there is no logic to their inclusion in the composition. Indeed, the uncanny juxtaposition was a hallmark of Surrealism that Cartier-Bresson found irresistible.
Gelatin Silver Print - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY