In 1932, Henri Cartier-Bresson set out on a tour of Southern Europe and the Maghreb; this journey with his 35 mm Leica was to be his formative tour that set out the rules of the art for not only the 25-year old photographer but also for a century of photojournalists who followed him.
In Seville in 1933, he took the photo above, later entitled, “Children Playing in Ruins”. Cartier-Bresson was often pithy in his descriptions and it was not entirely clear where exactly in the city he took the photo, or how the ruins come to be. He also did not paid much attention to contact sheets, believing that they were a mess of erasures, akin to kitchen refuse left behind after he had prepared a great meal. As such, contact sheet below is not the original, but a reconstruction based on the order the photos were taken. The original negative was cut up into individuals by Cartier-Bresson sometime before 1939. It however did reveal that he chose the photos which were among the first he made on that occasion.
Here, Cartier-Bresson’s usual journalistic eye was at work, depicting youthful vigor sprouting out of decayed detritus. Soon afterwards, the Spanish Civil War would broke out, affecting many cities Cartier-Bresson passed through. Seville was where the first shots were fired, and the photo — with its ruined buildings and crippled children — became associated with the horrors of that war, even though it was made three years earlier.
Andre Breton, a surrealist who was among the first to use photographs in his books, used an oddly cropped version of one of the photos to illustrate his chapter on the Spanish Civil War as early as 1937 in Mad Love. Many others followed.