That's hardly claiming oneself artist; it's one thing to say that you might think of the genre as artistic in nature (especially, as you indicate, when young) but putting oneself into the rôle of artist is another, which I don't read that quotation as declaring.
I wonder how many whom you do regard as artists would be disqualified by the criteria you apply to M. Cartier-Bresson :-)
Interviewer: Why did you choose photography?
Cartier-Bresson: Photography enables me to grasp the world directly through the medium of a particular and significant detail. There is no such thing as an art of generalities. It's a way of understanding and a way of living more intensely. ... I have a great time and I work for the love of the subject not for the sake of the magazine that ordered the pictures. ... once I start working, I work for the subject only. I don't refuse assignments, if they are not gimmicky. What Renaissance artist would have thought of despising a commission?"
"In photography, as in the other arts, talent only gives us the right to work even harder."
"Ours is a very small profession. While literally speaking, there is no competition, the market is very limited. Yet the contrived stories which magazines so often ask for become handicaps to photography as an art."
1961 Henri Cartier-Bresson: on the art of photography
an interview by Yvonne Baby, translated by Elizabeth Carmichael.
Given how this discussion began, I'll include this quotation from the same interview:
"My greatest joy is the surprise of facing a beautiful organization of forms, the intuitive recognition of a spontaneous -- not contrived -- composition; naturally with a subject that moves. I think it's only when handled this way that a subject takes on its full significance.
I never crop a photograph. If it needs to be cropped I know it's bad and that nothing could possibly improve it. The only improvement would have been to have taken another picture, at the right place and at the right time."