Cartier-Bresson

By Martin Joergensen | July 5, 2008 1:35 PM | Permalink | Comments ( 0) | TrackBacks ( 0)

behind-gare-de-st-lazare.jpg

OK, I know that the merits of Henri Cartier-Bresson have been mentioned more than often and that he has already been touted as a true master many, many times. But I cannot help reminding you of his brilliance, and encourage you to look at his vast portfolio for inspiration. If you haven't made the acquaintance already, you're in for a treat.


Cartier-Bresson has coined the term "the decisive moment", a photographic technique where you observe your scene and subjects and the way they move and interact and then press the shutter release in that exact split second where all elements meet in a higher synergy. Cartier-Bresson has demonstrated again and again that he mastered this method to perfection, showing it in many of his legacy photos.

Many call him the father of modern photojournalism. I find his style of photography more like what many refer to as street photography nowadays. The fact that he used a very compact Leica and fast B/W film for almost all his images made it possible for him to shoot quickly and be on the move all the time. He traveled quite extensively during his life.

My personal favorite is his shot from Paris "Behind the Gare St. Lazare", which you see in the top of this entry. Once you have seen the man leaping off the ladder to traverse a smooth puddle, hanging in almost abstract geometry over his own refection in the water, frozen in the only moment where it's interesting, you can't forget it.

For many years I had a poster with this exact image from an exhibition of his images in a local museum hanging on my wall, and when now I see that image again, I am still in awe over its composition, timing and its simplicity yet immense complexity with all its details in almost perfect harmony.

Other of his images come to mind: the proud boy with the bottles, the fat man amongst the playing kids - square holes in the wall behind them, Matisse between bird cages. These and so many more. All fascinating and classical images.


Cartier-Bresson lived to the age of 95 and died in 2004. He was active shooting into the 90's and produced an amazing span of work - including some great portraits, which is a type of photography not usually connected to Cartier-Bresson. Washington Post has a good feature on him as a portrait photographer.


If you want to study street photography, composition, timing and the use of a simple yet stunning B/W-expression, there is no better way to turn than Cartier-Bresson's images. Magnum Photos have a few online, but the mainstay of his huge production is not available on the web, but has to be found in books and galleries.


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