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   Henri Cartier-Bresson



Henri Cartier-Bresson is reckoned to be the forefather of street and reportage photography and many of today's street photographers have copied his style. There is a great deal more to Henri Cartier-Bresson's style and body of work than just walking down the street taking pictures with a Leica camera.

In his early days he studied music and he did train as an 'artist'. From the very start of his photography he did have an eye for the 'artistic' image and this did influence and accelerate his photographic skills. Martin Munkasci's 'Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika' greatly influenced him as did the 'Surrealists' who helped to channel his photographic direction. I am not totally in 'tune' with the 'Surrealists' who maintained that ordinary photographs contain a wealth of unintended, unpredictable meanings. I have witnessed this 'taken too literally' in street photography whereby the images are just plain boring and without soul.

I think that the image 'Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika' does make an 'artistic' impression and embodies 'human life' within the image which is surely the statement. It was much more than an image that could be defined by the 'Surrealists' and I firmly believe that Cartier-Bresson transcended their perceived photographic ideals............this combination of 'art' with the 'visual statement' within the image is why his images were so successful.

Henri was also a prolific photo journalist and captured images of the Second World War and major events throughout the world. His images of those events transcended traditional street photography and their historical value raised his status whereby he became recognised as an iconic photographer. He along with other great photographers was a founder member of Magnum Photos.

A video of 155 images, shot by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson  -  'The Decisive Moment'
This must be one of the best bits of 'SPIN' in the history of photography! From his book, Images la sauvette, whose English edition was titled The Decisive Moment this phrase, leapt out - "There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment". Those words originated from the 17th century Cardinal de Retz and Cartier-Bresson used them as part of the keynote text in his book. Henri was reputed to have regretted ever mentioning them. Today, many photographers still conjure up 'grandiose ideas' and write rubbish about the decisive moment..............the academics love the debate!

All photographers have their 'decisive moment' the 'fleeting' opportunity to catch the light on a grand landscape, the smile on a wrinkled face in a portrait, an interaction in sport or in wildlife photography but that's all it is............the shutter button is pressed, the image is good or bad, other people love it or hate it.

Henri was known for his 'inward analysis' that to be creative in photography you must be quick to seize the moment, that point in time where the scene, the art, the statement are interpreted by the eye and the shot is taken, the image captured. Photography to Henri was a vocation, it would cause him great anxiety when he over indulged and the images did not come. He regarded it as a physical pleasure that stimulated his senses and admitted that it did not take any brains to be a photographer. Henri admits to planning some of his locations and waiting on subjects to enter the scene, he recognised the possibility of 'art' in the shot, whilst he waited for the right moment, the right step and the image he desired. He also accepted that there was no rule, no set limits on the number of shots he would take to achieve one suitable image.

Like many of today's aspiring photographers, Henri often thought he recognised the quality in the scene, he lined up the camera viewfinder, pressed the shutter button but later when he saw the end result of the image in print, he binned it. In this digital age, images are being deleted in their thousands if not millions, great shots in the mind's eye that later turned out to be rubbish. Strange though it may seem, this is a positive analysis of photography!

There is a great DVD which you can purchase on-line. It is an 18 minute 'short film' which was made back in 1973 with samples of his images and narrated by Henri Cartier-Bresson himself. He speaks very good English with an interesting accent and discusses his images and technique - Decisive Moment DVD


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Richard Lawrence
United Kingdom


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