The Photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson

The Photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson

The Photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson

The Photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson

Excerpt

Cartier-Bresson's photographic technique is simple and straightforward. He uses a miniature camera with an apparently effortless reflex action. When a subject presents visual possibilities, he seeks the most revealing camera position rapidly. At the split-second when the lighting, the form and the expression are one, he releases the shutter. The precise composition of the final print is determined at this peak of emotional intensity. So definite is this instantaneous reaction that the entire negative is used for the final print. He does not select a portion of the image for enlargement, or otherwise alter the original composition. Like Edward Weston, he feels that to crop or trim the image as captured at the moment of exposure is not only inefficient, but is an admission of failure to see in a creative way. There is nothing accidental or unforeseen in his photography. On the contrary, elements which are essential to the picture extend to the very limits of the negative.

He will tell you that he likes his photographs sharp, aigu. By this he is referring not so much to the quality of the optical image as to the precision of plastic organization and the intensity of content. The problem of arrangement of form within the rectangle of the negative concerns him more than the mechanics of his medium. He feels that so much attention has been paid by photographers to mechanical technique alone, that style has been overlooked. He has for years painted, not for the public eye, but for his own enjoyment. A by-product of this avocation has been the development of a keen sense of plastic organization. He avidly studies the old masters of painting and of photography as a means of developing an appreciation of space and form. This training is important, he feels, for the mind thus visually quickened can more readily recognize that all-important moment when a camera exposure will result in more than an empty record. He never imposes on his pictures compositional devices lifted from paintings, and he avoids studied arrangements which lack spontaneity and directness. The important thing is not only to grasp at once the significance of the subject, but to be able to recognize form when it suddenly and magically presents itself.

Cartier-Bresson has compared his activity in painting, photography and the moving pictures to the gear shift of an automobile, for the fields are mutually separated yet closely interrelated. Work in each medium strengthens the others by stimulating and training visual observation. The photographer, he often points out, must learn to see actively, rapidly and completely, in order to develop an acute awareness of the visual possibilities of his surroundings.

He has a great respect for the subject, and has developed a way of working without intrusion, silently, almost on tiptoe. He has never had a studio. He does not create artificial settings with special lighting for the purpose of photography. Indeed his only use of artificial light is its occasional aid to boost the level of normal interior illumination to that threshold where instantaneous photography can be accomplished. And this is done so subtly, by directing . . .

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