Henri Cartier-Bresson

This is my first post where I record some thoughts on the work of an established photographer - in this case it is one of the most famous names in photography - Henri Cartier-Bresson. Although until recently I hadn't even heard of Cartier-Bresson, it quickly became apparent that he was a household name in photography circles; the phrase 'The Decisive Moment' is rarely omitted when his name appears. My tutor advised me to have a look at his work so I began my research with this fascinating video on You Tube:


One point which Cartier-Bresson stresses is that 'life is once forever', meaning that once a moment has passed, it has gone - forever. You can't go back and recreate the scene. This idea epitomises his work, where we see time and time again, a photograph taken at just the right moment to have the desired effect. Of course, some scenes can be recreated but Cartier-Bresson allowed things to occur before the camera and caught them as they happened. He could see what might occur and then plan for it should it happen; such as in this image of Alberto Giacometti. The striding Giacometti is caught in a similar pose to the sculpture on the left. In his image of the girl on the steps, taken in Greece in 1961, Cartier-Bresson set up the shot and waited for the right moment, disregarding a prior photograph of an orthodox priest moving through the image as it didn't fit properly with the rest of the composition. In this image of a dog poking its head through a hole in a fence, the opportunity was likely to be fleeting and timing would be essential.

This idea isn't exclusively the realm of street photography - it might apply equally to portraiture where the photographer might wait for the right expression, or the right distraction to enable them to get the photograph they want.

I have barely scratched the surface of Cartier-Bresson's work, but I can already see why it has been hugely influential on so many other photographers over the years. I am already a fan of his work and some of his ideas have already influenced my own photography. In the past when a photo-opportunity has arisen, I have thought 'that would have made a good photograph.' Now, if I can, I make myself stop and try to capture it, or at least recognise the stage and wait for the  actors - as Cartier-Bresson himself has described it. The images below are examples of where I feel I am heading in the right direction.

With this image, I missed the decisive moment, but again I was pleased that I'd backed up and tried to get the shot. Initially, the man was facing the arrow and I had a better viewpoint. In hindsight, I should have hung around and maybe got in a better position. Lessons are learned!

This image was also a situation where I told myself to stop and get the shot. The air was rapidly moving the vapour trail away from the chimney and the opportunity to get what I thought would be an interesting photograph was rapidly going. I had a few seconds to get it right and I was quite pleased with it - more so because I didn't hesitate rather than dithering and missing the opportunity.

As time goes by, I hope to spend more time looking at Henri Cartier Bresson's images and learn more about his views on photography.