Just bought "An Inner Silence, the Portraits of Henri Cartier-Bresson." It is good to be able to periodically look at those images. Most of them are slightly blurred and grainy portraits of people who, in most cases, are not even looking at the camera. They are caught in the middle of something: a conversation, a moment of silence, a private meditation, an instant when they were not aware the photographer was pressing the shutter button. Even when someone is looking straight at the camera, he/she looks absent, as if his/her eyes just happened to momentarily look in that direction. HCB did not like posed portraits.
He also did not like close-ups. The people he portrays, most of them well known in the art world of the time, are always shown in a context. A bookshelf, a painting, a curtain, a tapestry, a mask, a street lamp, there is always something else in the frame that makes a lot of sense, that had to be there.
All photos are taken under available light only.
That's all there is to making exceptional portraits: sense of timing and placement. It is not the large aperture lens, the backdrops, the strobes, the diffusion boxes. If it only were that simple...