Street photography… like using your eyes as radar.
Cartier-Bresson sought the detail of peoples lives in an instant of time. His legacy lies in understanding the moment of capture – the instant when the power of photography is expressed.
Cartier-Bresson’ insights are so different to the modern photographer. Today we spend endless conversational moments discussing the importance of the latest camera body, the best lens, the latest electronic photo-gizmo… Cartier-Bresson was an early adopter of the old film format 35mm SLR. After World War II he travelled the world, particularly India and the Far East, and saw some of the most momentous political upheavals of our time. The world he saw was raw, harsh and yet vital and dynamic. In those times of upheaval what he saw was not hardship and loss like so much modern photojournalism. He saw vital but ordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people.
The essence of the Cartier-Bresson style was about the “decisive moment”. He saw geometry, pattern and structure through the viewfinder. In doing so he also saw chains of events, micro moments, adding together and creating a moment where the aesthetics and the story were expressed in the shot. He knows that moment is the only moment that the photograph would be right.
The power of his insight as a street photographer lies in his ability to see meaning and aesthetics in the moments when he took each shot. He did not spend hours on consideration of his equipment. He spent hours on the philosophy of the “instant” about which each photographic moment was pivotal. He saw into the “seeing of the moment”. It is that moment, if captured just right, that a picture is transformed into an image in the viewers mind. Capture any other moment and the picture remains only a vestige of an unseen event, it does not create the image.
The vitality and sheer energy of Henri Cartier-Bresson’ photography and insights is amazing. It is about the essence of his photography, not about the act of “doing photography”. Modern photographers spend too much time “doing photography” and too little time understanding the implications of what we show our viewers.
Some interesting comments
Quotes by Cartier-Bresson beautifully sum up his thinking.
To interest people on far away places… to shock them, to delight them… it’s not too difficult. It’s on your own country – you know too much when its on your own block. It’s such a routine, going to the butcher, it’s quite difficult in places I am in all the time, I know too much and not enough. To be lucid about it is most difficult… But your mind must be open. Open-aware. Aware.
(Photography:) It’s like having a search light, a radar… And that’s why to anybody who has done ten good photographs in his life it’s interesting (photography) because its a consistency. Its always re-examining things where you are freer and go deeper.
A camera is a weapon, you can’t prove anything. But at the same time it is a weapon. Not a propaganda means – photography, not at all. But er.. its a way of shouting what you feel.
The camera can be a machine gun… a psycho-analytical couch… it can be a warm kiss… It can be a sketch book, the camera.
…That’s strictly my way of feeling, I enjoy shooting a picture, being present, its like saying “Yes!”, “Yes!”, “Yes!”… Photography is like that, its “Yes!”, “Yes!”, “Yes!”. There’s no maybes. All the maybes should go to the trash. It’s an instant, it’s a presence. Its a moment. It’s there. Its the respect of it, the enjoyment of it. Yes! Its an affirmation. Yes!
(August 22, 1908 – August 3, 2004)
The decisive moment
What Cartier-Bresson did for photography was realise the imperative and aesthetics of the moment. This is something modern photographers often forget. We get so caught up in the equipment and the action of the moment. What we forget is that there is something beautiful in every tiny event. Cartier-Bresson spent his life bringing that out.
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