Henri Cartier-Bresson and Scientology: The MoMA-Approved, Legendary Photographer's Strange Connection

Village Voice/June 1, 2010

Here's a good one for future Jeopardy contestants: Legendary French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson - whose work is currently being exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art through June 28 - has a strange connection to this infamously sketchy and Celebrity-collecting "Church."

If you answered "What is Scientology?" You're correct. And if you didn't, you either didn't read the headline or know of another infamously sketchy and Celebrity-collecting "Church," but one that's not nearly as interesting as this one. Who else would - of course - manage a connection to Tom Cruise, Beck, and now, one of the world's most renowned photographers? Lilit Marcus at The Gloss reports:

"The late photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson's nephew is now deeply embroiled in one of the most mysterious groups in the world - the Church of Scientology. Guillaume Lesevre, the son of Cartier-Bresson's sister, rose through the church's ranks and at one point was the Executive Director International for the entire church. As one of the highest-ranking officials in Scientology, he often made public appearances and did interviews. However, it seems that Lesevre has fallen out of favor in his faith."

Marcus goes on to explain how Lesevre has fallen out of favor with Scientology, and also notes that the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris has confirmed to her that Lesevre is Bresson's nephew, but didn't comment regarding Scientology's connection to Bresson, likely because the Church of Scientology is under intense, heavy scrutiny from the French government after a woman who failed a Scientology test took her own life, and another woman successfully sued Scientology in a French court for "bilking" a bunch of money from her which apparently almost resulted in Scientology losing their status as a sect in the country.

On first appearance, the connection drawn between a French photographer who's been dead for almost six years and his nephew who's part of a newsworthy religion seems a little tenuous: Why should anyone - or even Henri Cartier-Bresson fans and scholars - care what one of his relatives is doing on their own time? To be fair, though, Henri Cartier-Bresson is "considered to be the father of modern photojournalism" and his estate - likely worth a lot of money - means a great deal to a great number of people, which is besides remaining a source of pride for his birth nation. Scientology uses celebrities to advance their cause as reasons for non-celebrities to join the church. So while the connection might be a degree or two removed from Henry Cartier-Bresson himself, it doesn't make the revelation any less interesting, or provocative (especially given France's stance on the Scientology).

Marcus contacted Scientology for quote, they didn't get back to her. Wonder what - if anything - French officials, photography geeks, and Scientology's fierce advocates for and against their cause are going to have to say when they eventually weigh in on the matter.

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