Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s bride-to-be has been compared to Wallis Simpson, the socialite who precipitated King Edward VIII’s abdication crisis in 1937. He relinquished the throne because he could not perform his duties as king “without the help and support of the woman I love”, changing the course of history.
They are both American divorcees and polished performers in front of the camera. But despite Meghanmania on both sides of the atlantic after the announcement of the engagement between the former Suits actress and the fifth-in-line to the British monarchy, American gallerist Peter Fetterman strongly believes images of the engaged couple will not reach the iconic status of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who were photographed by some of the leading photographers of their age including legendary French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson who coined the immortal phrase: “the decisive moment”.
Fetterman, whose 100-plus collection, Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Eye of the Century, comprising some of Cartier-Bresson’s most memorable photographs go under the hammer in New York on 12 November believes despite the stratospheric interest in the fairytale story of Markle and Prince Harry, it is the overexposure in the age of social media and 24-hour news cycle which will rob them of their magic.
He told WLT exclusively on the eve of the sales: “As regards the future Princess Meghan I don’t think all the photos that have been taken or will be taken of them will become as iconic. “We live in different times now. Back then when Henri was working there was no internet, no CNN, no Instagram. Great images were really special and not as widely distributed. Folks learned about the world from hard copy magazines like Life.
Markle is part of the Insta-generation, a prolific communicator with over 2,065 posts and 2.8m followers on Instagram. But she has since wound up her lifestyle website The Tig and has gone into social media purdah. She last posted on 7 April thanking all her contributors and bidding them farewell.
Cartier-Bresson’s black and white portrait of the Windsors shot in Paris in 1951 was commissioned by Harper’s Bazaar, and even though he gained his reputation as an intrepid photographer traversing the globe shooting some of the defining images of the last century, he was also a consummate portrait photographer with a long list of famous sitters like Jean-Paul Sartre, Henri Matisse, Malcolm X, Truman Capote and Marilyn Monroe.
The ubiquitous smartphone camera has since put paid to the spontaneous and unscripted moments Cartier-Bresson and his peers like Robert Capa, Marc Riboud, Willy Ronis, Edouard Boubat and Robert Doisneau were renowned for and Fetterman regrets that what has been lost forever is that genius behind the camera as everyone thinks they are a photographer. He says ruefully: “My dog thinks he is a photographer. Most of the images we see are totally superficial with no point and the media is drowning in them.”
Fetterman believes Cartier-Bresson’s fierce intellect set him apart. “Henri was so intelligent, so well-read and could talk about history, art, music, politics, geography really talk about anything to his subjects and therefore get them to relax and establish rapport with them and instantly gain their respect.”
His favourite portraits are Giacometti in his studio and “Martine’s Legs, his beautiful and intelligent wife”. He collected him because of the range of his subject matter and his sensitivity to the human condition. He is still a firm believer in the positive power of photography as a force for good.
“Yes, I am optimistic still about the power of photography to change and open people’s eyes to what is going on in the world we live in and to promote mutual understanding and respect for all peoples.
“Maybe I’m a bit like John Lennon but I imagine harmony is possible.”
A word of advice to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle; less is more. Fetterman concludes, “Henri would just laugh at selfies and would find it hard to believe why anyone would want to take so many”.
- Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Eye of the Century, the collection of Peter Fetterman will be auctioned at Phillips on 12 November 2017 in New York.