Cartier-Bresson: Capturing the essence of wine
A great picture and three questions
But let's go back to Rue Mouffetard. Maybe the protagonist is earning a few cents by taking that pair of bottles from the grocery store in the corner to a customer's home. He is the last figurantin the wine trade. He feels important. And we ask ourselves the second big question: what sort of wine is in the bottles? Is it red or white? Is it young or has it been aged? Is it good? We'll never know, but we can find some clues in some statistical data from 1939, the onset of the war, which reveal that the most popular wine among Parisians at that time came from the south of France. The reds of Languedoc and Provence, Mediterranean wines made from Grenache, Carignan, Cinsault and Mourvedre, accounted for no less than 40% of sales in Paris. Surprisingly, at a very short distance were the reds produced in Algeria, a French colony back then. Further down were the whites of the Loire, with a 6% share. Bordeaux barely accounted for 5% of the total wine drunk in Paris. Interestingly, Burgundy wines had a negligible presence. In conclusion, the boy portrayed by Cartier-Bresson is probably carrying strong, powerful plonk that will be drank with a hearty, traditional stew.
The boy's name was Michel Gabriel and when he grew up he kept in touch with Henri Cartier-Bresson. There is a funny anecdote that tells how the photographer, already in his eighties, turned up at Michel's 50th birthday party with a bottle in each hand, imitating the then boy's pose and grimace of the photograph. Shortly thereafter, Cartier-Bresson wrote that those bottles carried by Michel were not filled with wine but with "rainwater". We are left in doubt and that will forever be the third question about this unforgettable photo."