Henri Cartier-Besson death

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by bobatkins, Aug 4, 2004.

  1. It has been reported that Henri Cartier-Bresson has died at the age of 95.
    For more information please see:
    http://www. startribune.com/stories/466/4910970.html
    or in French http://www.startribune.com/stories/466/4910970.html
    Thanks to Antony Bichon for origially posting this news in the Photography News forum. I though it reasonable to break our "no crossposting" rule in this case.
  2. Yahoo has an AP story on its home page.

  3. I just saw it on the news here in Catalonia. Idon't know in which way but some homage could be made from this site. He has been mentioned so often. For starters it would be nice to know what photoneters enjoyed in his work.
  4. A great loss to the world.

    His work will live on for eternity.

  5. A terrible loss... I saw a few of his prints in France last month. They were stunning.
  6. His eye and talent was one of the greatest gifts to street photography. His greatest lesson, the concept of the 'decisive moment,' will never cease to live on in the world of photography. God bless that brilliant photographer.
  7. R.I.P., Henri. You have certainly left your marks in this world. We'll always remember you when we see your creations.
  8. You can also see the news in the front page of NY Times but you need to register to read it. (Register, it's free.) The link is here.
  9. Farewell, Henri. You were an inspiration.
  10. The decisive moment, indeed.
  11. I didn't even know he was still alive, amazing how some photographers have spanned and worked over almost the entire history of photography as we know it.
  12. In 1980, I was 13 year old boy. That year, I saw a very little exhibition in Liege, a depressed industrial town in Belgium. There were only 16 images on the wall but, god, what did these 16 pictures do to me!
    It was an exhibition called "Images of the Pays Franc". A work he did for some local authorithy in also depressed Northern France.

    These 16 images changed my life.

    I have been looking since then to see these images again but they never were published anywhere, until last month...someone posted the catalogue of the exhibition on eBay. What a joy to admire them again 24 years later.

  13. Merci Henri Cartier-Besson
  14. HCB was my inspiration to a life of recording the human spirit.
    i am a photographer because of his influence and his photographs.
    While very young, a mentor entered my life and together they gave me the thrill,joy and deep appreciation of life and humanity.
    To Henri of France and Alex(my little father),Merci.
  15. Making it to 95 ain't too shabby. The longevity of people like HCB and Picasso (as well as
    many others) makes a good argument for keeping the "creative juices" flowing well into
    old age.

    He was certainly an inspiration to me. This year I finally broke down and bought a print
    from him. I'm very glad that I did.
  16. There was no one more relevant ever than HCB. No one.
  17. Henri Cartier-Bresson was a miserable, cantankerous old so-and-so in his later years.

    He had taken up painting and virtually disowned his photography as a trivial pursuit, in deference to painting. It's funny how his photographs were un-retouched, un-cropped and printed "flat" (and always printed by others). They were presented, without artifice, as a neutral window into the "real life" decisive moments he was photographing. It was the subject matter that was most important to him, shown without artistic effects in order to portray their essence. His photographs were really a representation of his eye's view on life and its many arrangements, rather than views in themselves that existed in their own right.

    Then, going over to painting, he reversed all the realism in favour of impressionistic representation. In my view, he was always a much better photographer than painter. Yet, especially in his last quarter century, he wasn't all that interested in what people thought of his photography. In what he really wanted to do and be, he was ultimately a sad and lonely man, who believed his true voice was being ignored. That's why he became so cranky in his later years... in my opinion anyway, from viewing a couple of TV interviews he made in the past couple of years.

    So many great artists - and people in general - do well what they couldn't care less about. And in what they want to do, they are only average. It's one of the great frustrations, isn't it? I think we could do worse than learn how to cope with our disappointments and make the best of them. To spend our lives in a state of chronic ire at our failings is such a waste of time.

    Still, a great milestone. I don't call it a loss, as his work survives and will always inspire and instruct.

    Most importantly, his creative agony is finally over.
  18. Part of the tragedy is of the artist is that there is no real goal in achieving what you are
    naturally good at. The real satisfaction lies in the things you accomplish by practice and
  19. HCB inspired me to pick up and seriously use a camera 8 years ago; he showed me how street, candid, and black and white photography is both relevant and timeless. He outlived many of his Magnum contemporaries, and leaves us an unforgettable legacy. Everyone I've introduced HCB's images (in books) to leaves inspired, sometimes awestruck by the simplicity and beauty. Merci, Henri.
  20. This is a great loss, but we lost HCB 25 years ago when he more or less gave up photography for drawing and painting. To this I say "Good for him!" He may have felt he said all he needed to say through his photography. When Robert Frank was asked why he didn't make another book like "The Americans", he replied "I've already done that. To make another would I would have been repeating myself". At least is was something to that effect. Besides, perhaps HCB felt he just wasn't up to the physical demands of street photography. Let's be honest, everyone at some point when they get up in the later years slow down, their hands may shake, the eyesight just keeps getting worse for some, the can't move as quickly and so fourth. HCB may have felt that his art would have suffered if he had to try to overcome the effects of age in order to try to produce work on the level of his younger days. Just a thought.
  21. Yes, Brett, you're right about the universal appeal of Cartier-Bresson's photographs. I know of no person who has seen his work - artistic, worker, well educated or not, well grounded in the arts or not - who has not come away from a viewing other than uplifted.

    And you're right about the simplicity of his images; or more accurately the apparent simplicity. There is an almost unbelieveable lightness in his vision, a mood that is always optimistic. Several witness to some of his most famous photographs have said he barely stopped, hardly turned his head when he took the picture. He perfected a technique of being able to technically record what his mind's eye saw - focussed, framed and correctly exposed - and to achieve this prolifically.

    His technical prowess was aided by using forgiving black and white negative film that could be printed up or down a stop or two easily. It is said he pre-focussed his 50mm lenses to 4 metres and used depth of field to do the rest. That the flaws in the prints arising from this technique (and there are many, if you ever get a chance to look up close at originals) become invisible due to the overwhelming truthfulness of the image as a whole (I am speaking here of his published works, of course... he must have had many failures too) says a lot about the quality of his legacy.

    In fact his technique was so good, that I've often wondered whether it wasn't just a knack involving quick reflexes and say, the right sized hands for the Leica camera he used. If it was a knack, does the trivialness of it detract from the images? I've never been able to answer that one. One of his most famous pictures, taken at the Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris was taken through the gap between two fence palings, without him looking through the viewfinder (he admitted this with great glee in a recent documentary shown on Australian TV). Is it any less a near-perfect photograph for that? Or are we missing the point? Perhaps it is not the photograph but the vision that should be celebrated, the medium being almost trivial (except to those trying vainly to emulate his work).

    And what particular "decisive moment" do we celebrate when viewing the image? A man about to jump into a puddle? Something that banal? Maybe that was Cartier-Bresson's final photographic triumph: he presented the banal in a compelling way, full of humor and cheek. Why is it that so many of the ikonic images of the 20th century are of such dramatic events (Capa's soldier, Burrows' Khe Sahn mud, the Hindenburg and so on), yet Cartier-Bresson's contributions to this gallery of greatness are almost entirely of everyday events, not at all "newsworthy", yet so universally appealing?

    To add another level of paradox to the story, the old man was (not too strong a word at all) contemptuous of both his own photographic work and the reaction of others to it (especially after he retired from photography abut 30 years ago). To him, as Joris put it, it was because he was "naturally good at" seeing the world around him and couldn't figure out how so many were enchanted by something he found so easy to do. Coming from an affluent family he didn't need to earn a living in his younger years and had ample time to theorize about art and to meet famous artists: to become a member of an artistic clique in the Paris of the twenties and thirties. He could buy an expensive camera and travel widely, doing little but taking photographs. In those days the concept of a "snapshot" was a new one. Portability of equipment and high-speed miniature film were almost a novel combination. What we now regard as the artform of "street" or "decisive moment" photography was a blank page waiting to be written upon, to be defined. Just as Picasso could be said to have defined modern painting (to simplify art history greatly), Cartier-Bresson defined the new, portable art of peripatetic photography. It is a happy coincidence that both men (and there are other examples than these) not only founded their respective arts, but were their greatest exponents. And that it all took place in Paris.

    I wonder whether this will ever happen again, such an amazing confluence of time, talent and place. Our manufactured heroes today kill, rob or lie for a living. They rarely do great works, other than of engineering or making money. Their so-called achievements are touted by paid publicity agents and political spin doctors. Cartier-Bresson's great success was garnered from a simple camera, carried around with him wherever he went. He eschewed sycophants. He kept his art direct, uncluttered and unsensational. I have often wondered whether he didn't see himself as a "junior" achiever, the forever present documenter of his great and talented acquaintances, but still basically a wallflower to their existence and their influence on the arts. And if so, whether that is why he came to loathe photography so much. Was it a reminder of what he may have seen as his secondary place in the artistic lives of his contemporaries?

    Painting and drawing were his first and last loves. When he came back to painting in later life his renewed enthusiasm may have been a product of his wanting to be finally accepted by his contemporaries; the irony being that he had outlived them all. His photography, depending as it did on a knack for being able to record as well as see an event, may well have been - to him - too trivial a thing to concern himself over, except in jest.

    He took the chance to reinvigorate the passions of his youth and found them as compelling as his memory recalled. That others did not seem to share his recommittment was the penalty for living too long.
  22. It's quite sad to learn about HCB passing away. I just bought HCB's book on India
    yesterday and I keep thumbing through a bunch of his books I borrowed from the library.
    His art is most admirable.
  23. RIP, Henri. And thanks to Tony Dummett for a clear-eyed but insightful obituary.
  24. Strange to think he outlived so many of the people he influenced. He's one of those people whose lifetime spanned a century of totally unprecedented change, except that he did it with a camera and an expert eye; it's no wonder we consider him important. That his art was to freeze time in such a rapidly moving age certainly adds to its power and relevancy. For this reason, I imagine his photos will still be considered "timeless" when much other twentieth century art is forgotten. Many thanks Mr. Bresson. (for the elves: a typo above in his name)
  25. Let his soul rest in peace. The thoughts of millions he has inspired will stay with him on this day and forever.
  26. he is truly one of my photo idols...
  27. Lately I?ve been thinking that maybe its all about what you leave undone, the thousand pictures that you don?t take, the thousand possible angles that you choose to discard, the many discourses that are left untold, the ability to grasp, that picture, that angle, that light, that argument, which is needed at that precise moment, and discard the others. To do this, to achieve a universally acceptable result, is the contribution. That some chance is involved, naturally; that a presumably number of technical flaws are present, nothing to regret. Once this decisions are made, chance has a due to a large amount of possible variables, but little to say on big issues. As always excuse my English.
  28. Christian, your English expresses your idea perfectly: it's all in the choosing, the selection.

    I'm a bit choked up. I started off fairly prosaically, being factual about his life, his lost opportunities. Now after listening to reports on his passing on Australian radio, watching Australian television, reading the New York Times, CNN's website, this thread and many others I'm starting to realise what a loss his death has been. They have all carried the news, prominently.

    Politics, disasters and celebrity lives have been put to one side. Iraq, Bush, Kerry and car bombs are secondary, at least on this day, to the death of Henri Cartier-Bresson.

    I find myself gratified to say safely, that the World mourns his death tonight.

    If only he had known. If only he had cared.
  29. Lets go out and photograph with our 50mm lens today for him :)

    Make him an inspiration not a funeral friends...
  30. A gifted man with a wonderful and unpolluted true French character. A person who
    focussed his energies according to his appetites and left the world a better place for doing
    so. People are very mistaken in denying him his love of painting. Henri was always first a
    follower of his own heart and soul - there was no second. <p> Marvelous images - so
    perfect in their ability to inspire others to emulate their character and spirit.
  31. Many see the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkies". The French are thinkers. We need thinkers. More than ever.
  32. I think constantly reminding everyone of the absurd sniping of the American (and
    British) right makes it difficult for all of us to move on to more productive ground. We
    need thinkers from all countries, and while the French have a long history of
    cultivating art, art is created by individuals rather than states. Besides, I think most
    here would be rather dismayed by our dear Henri's politics. Both Capa and Cartier-
    Bresson worked for the newspaper "Ce Soir", which among its other sins, defended
    the Russo-German Pact of 1939.

    Didn't make his art any less compelling.
  33. "Many see the French as "cheese-eating surrender monkies". The French are thinkers. We need thinkers. More than ever."
    The French are the politically accceptable 'thinkers' of the sixties their long tradition of perfect soft cheeses is of far more interest to me and second only to the fact that nothing compares with the charms of Paris in the Spring time.
  34. The Henri Cartier Bresson Foundation website: www.henricartierbresson.org
  35. If anyone has a chance, there is an amazing retrospective of his work at the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum in Berlin right now. 7 rooms filled with his work which makes you realize how much he accomplished during his life. Amazing.
  36. Just saw this on FOXnews myself...the world has lost a great one....the greatest.
  37. Henri Cartier-Bresson was a miserable, cantankerous old so-and-so in his later years.
    Did you know him well? He didn't appear miserable in the interview I saw.
  38. For my little tribute to HBC, please see my recent blog post at


  39. I will remember HCB's work. I have already forgotten Tony Dummet's ignorant drivel attacking Bresson's attitude and life choices. What a shame and a sham.
  40. No words. Just sorrow.
  41. I have already forgotten Tony Dummet's ignorant drivel attacking Bresson's attitude and life choices. What a shame and a sham.

    Pathetic. It is completely unnecessary to personally attack not only a very talented photographer, but a person who writes thoughtfully and with the insight of an excellent street shooter about HCB. Tony Dummet is not only articulate with his camera but also with the written word and he deserves an apology.
  42. I am glad to see such a man get such a tribute. He was an inspiration to me as a journalist, a model for developing my photographic vision, and a personal hero.

    "Life," he once said, "is once, forever. You cannot go back."

    He never did go back. His photography was always forward looking. He was a witness to unprecedented changes in our world and thanks to his work so are we. His best photographs, including the famous "Gare St. Lazare", were always rather banal in subject. However they captured the emotion, the individual, the moment in ways that needed no further explanation.

    As almost heretical as it sounds, from what I have read he cared little about his product after the picture was taken. He only cared that it not be altered or cropped. That the whole of what he saw be relayed to the viewer of his image. So many of us seek exactness and crispness in our images, we seek the detail of the image. Bresson did not seek the detail in the image; he sought the moment. He did not care to capture with exact perfection the images he saw so long as he could convey it's meaning. So many of us would benefit from this perspective.
    As photographers we have the ability to capture reality. We can make it exact. We can make it realistic in ways that the Trompe L'oiel painters and sculptors can envy. My charge to you, my fellow photographers, as well as my charge to myself, is to work at capturing not the exactness of our reality, but the meaning behind it. Think of Bresson when you make your photographs: The harmony of geometry, the power of form, and most importantly the connection between you and your subject.

    Henri Cartier Bresson is dead. His once is now gone, forever.

    Our calling, our passion, in some cases our profession has gained because of his life, his work, his career. If there are to be tributes, let them be tributes that reveal our devotion to his ideas and acceptance of his wisdom. Let us show that we have learned from this man, who I would say without hesitation is the greatest of us all.
  43. In one sequence of a film about his later life, he was with his daughter and his publisher going over proofs of a forthcoming retrospective. They were having a lot of trouble stopping him writing all over the prints, and in one case ripping a print out of the album. As they gently chided him, he began to smoulder and finally snapped at them verbally to stop patronising him.

    In another interview he was deliberately obtuse talking about his photographic work and derided it at almost every opportunity, in deference to the purity of painting. While conceding that some of his pictures were quite good, he dismissed most of them, including the ones he liked, as trivial exercises.

    My point was that having taken up painting again after a long hiatus he couldn't make them work for him, and his fans, in the same way his photographs worked. He was never recognized as "a painter", merely as someone who paints. My impression was that this made him frustrated and miserable, and I thought that was a shame, despite it being entirely his own business to decide what he liked and what he disliked.

    It is worth noting that in all the reports of his death - even Fox News got on the bandwagon - not one of his paintings, his life's work for the past thirty years, was shown. I believe this would have been a source of some frustration to him.


    Fox News? Amazing! I'm trying to think of other artists whose death would garner such a universal reaction from general news organizations. And we thought HCB was our own private treasure.
  44. He was without a doubt one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century. His vision was pure and at the core of communicating through this unique medium. He also lived during a pivotal time in both the history of the world as well as the history of photojournalism.

    Today, we are blessed with many other great photographers who were influenced by Cartier-Bresson. We sometimes take them and the photographs they produce for granted. We should not. As both viewers and photographers we owe this man a debt of gratitude that can not be measured by any normal means.

    In 1960 I was about 14 years old and unknowingly beginning a lifetime in photography. My intellect and emotions were already being shaped by this elusive photographer. Best of all, I (and my friends) could wander around the city with simple equipment and know that the ultimate goal was far from simple. To tell a story, however large or small, with a minimum of fuss and bother but with a clear command of an invention that has forever changed the world.

    Thank you, Henri, may you rest in peace.
  45. Tony it has always struck me as to how you can produce dam good photos and then wax eloquently about photography and all it touches.

    To your point:

    ?I wonder whether this will ever happen again, such an amazing confluence of time, talent and place?

    Well it occurs to me that perhaps photo.net is such a place and the time is now. The talent is there not in concentrated form and maybe not reaching heights you refer to, but diluted by democracy. Photography can only be new once. Yet I wonder what a treasure trove photo.net would be if kept in place over time. What an amazing archive to record this ?time? and from places all around the globe preserved as long as Philip Greenspan et al keep the servers running.

    HCB had his time and used it well, and we have ours; as for me I hope to use it better than I have to date, especially with respect to photography. Perhaps that is the legacy of people like HCB, inspiring other to try and see the world in new ways.
  46. Perhaps it is time to change the quote on the photo.net home page.

    "For photography you need one finger, one eye and two legs."
    Henri Cartier-Bresson

    "Photography is nothing, it's life that interests me."
    Henri Cartier-Bresson

    I'm certain there are others
  47. Another thanks to Tony Dummetts thoughtful obituary to Henri Cartier-Bresson. As for other artists that would garner such universal coverage on their demise, Bob Dylan (Zimmerman) is one.
  48. Erin, you pointed out the flaw in my question perfectly. I should have said, "I'm trying to think of other artists, outside of popular culture, whose death would garner such a universal reaction from general news organizations."
    (This is not to in any way deride Dylan, or any other popular artist).
    Cartier-Bresson's was not a household, everyday artist. He was known to photographers and aficianados. But not to the general public. That something as crass a Fox News should run an obituary is truly astounding to me. It supports my earlier point that, once exposed to his genius, I never found a person, "artistic" or not, who walked away unimpressed. Perhaps even the pinheads at Team Fox knew real talent when they saw it, for once in their programmed, Murdoch-infested lives.
    Henri Cartier-Bresson's subject was universal truth, life. And everyone appreciates truth when they see it, even the lie factory that is Fox News.
  49. What sad news - such an inspiration to us all. I can't think of a photographer who has taken more beautiful photos than Henri. Thankyou for your beautiful work which will be remembered always.
  50. mjd


    The celebrity phenomenon is relatively recent. I do think HCB would have become excellent material for the celebrity-crazed paparazzi culture that is currently plaguing us, had he not stopped photographying actively and isolated himself from the outside world the way he did in his late life. Maybe it was actually a good thing for photography that he took on painting and that he wasn't THAT good at it. Maybe not?
  51. "The awful daring of a moment's surrender
    Which an age of prudence can never retract
    By this, and this only, we have existed
    Which is not to be found in our obituaries."

    To the man who lives on, more than anyone else before or after him, in his "moments", merci.
  52. Henri Cartier-Bresson was the greatest photographer who ever picked up a camera.

    But when we say this we must also remember that what we know as the "art of photography" was very much defined by him, so there is a certain circularity in this statement of tribute. With his use of 35 mm film and a portable camera and by elevating the snapshot to the status of art, he democratized the form and gave it to the world. Anyone could be a photographer; and the world responded accordingly. But in the same gesture of giving everyone who could pick up a camera he also threw down the gauntlet: could anyone else be Cartier-Bresson? The answer is no, because even if the picture itself was formalistically better than Cartier-Bresson, it was still Cartier-Bresson. There was practically no one who escaped wanting to be him.

    Art is led by the hand of science. The 35 mm snapshot (whether or not taken with a Leica) gave us HCB. The recent developments in photography have marginalized this way of seeing and made its practitioners almost idiosyncratic. A new way of seeing, a new "art of photography" is in progress, and with it will come a Cartier-Bresson of its own. The death of HCB closes the chapter on a way of taking pictures that spanned his lifetime.

    The art of photography of the twentieth century belonged to him. De quoi s'agit-il? The camera that we sling on our shoulder, the prints that we hold in our hand, the single picture we want to take that will continue in perpetuity.
  53. wow what a passing of a wonderful photographer that i could only hope to see a thousandth of his genuis pass through my viewfinder, but i love that quote of his about only needing two legs and a finger to release the shutter it is as simple as breathing when you truly can see the gift in your hands with a 35mm roll of film

    i don't know the history of him but am amazed by the span of his career and part in world politics, truly a gift to his editors and the world, i only remembering marvelling at his work in grade 11 and deciding then and there that i wanted to shoot like him and karsh, that decisive moment that people just are so alive and be unobtrusive enough to catch them without invasive flash or posed squence of shots, life happens too fast to hold that pose, just keep shooting,

    that's the beauty of his work, that he just recorded life as it happened, he was a total inspiration to my style, and i actually choked up when i came upstairs in the morning to tell my parents the news after hearing it on CBC radio, but we ahouldn't mourn those who have left but to instead remember and honour their innovations and inspiration on our own endevours that celebrate life as henri did

    thankyou to all who have spoken well of his works and this rememberence discussion to illuminate his efforts, i wish i could go to berlin but meh the library is my friend, so props to Henri Cartier-Bresson and i too shall go find my 55mm spotmatic & a roll of black and white to go shoot life as it comes


  54. I watched a chunk of the Charlie Rose interview from 2000 last night. HCB was consistently dodging the possibility of being iconified himself in favor of living in the moment. I especially enjoyed his miming of the crucial moment of snapping the picture.
  55. Some radio interview clips with Henri recorded at NPR ... here .
  56. I think Henri Carties-Bresson had no patience with people toward the
    end of his life because people were trying to deify him rather than
    let him be a man. He was a great photographer, but it would be an
    injustice to make him into a god. Not all his pictures are uncropped
    -"Behind the Gare St. Lazare" is an example. Nor did he confine
    himself to a normal lens. I think highjacking him to be a poster boy
    for "Street Photography" also does him a disservice - he was much
    more than that.

    I am grateful for his life and the work he produced. Placing him on a
    pedestal turns him from a human being to a mere icon.
  57. Andrea - very well said.
  58. Gare Saint-Lazare is also heavily dodged. I once saw two Kodak boxes full of HC-B 20x24 prints in the basement of the Bibliotheque Nationale. Apart from being obliged to wear gloves I could handle them as I pleased. They were full of scratches and splotches brushed out with photo-retouching pen. It made them seem more real and approachable to me. But none of them appeared cropped. I think perhaps some of his earlier shots may have been cropped, but as a rule he disdained this process.

    I've often grappled with the reasons why printing full-frame was such an important part of HC-B's photography (and of many acolytes, including myself). I've never seen a satisfying explanation for the practise. It seems to be related to his other custom of printing his pictures with a full complement of highlights, grays and shadows, i.e. "realistically". What we're given is the scene exactly as the photographer saw it, concomitant with the constraints of frame shape and film parameters. There's a satisfaction in being able to use the camera as a window onto the scene in front of you, and not to alter it meaningfully afterwards. But just what that satisfaction is, is difficult to describe.

    Partly it's a "gotcha!" sort of feeling, related to what I termed as a "knack" above. Partly it's the discipline of having to inter-react with the scene at the time of shooting. If you can do it, it's a way of proving to yourself that you understood what was going on, that your comprehension of the jumbled elements in front of you was accurate, plausible. There's a pleasure to be gained from being able to predict the actions, moods and arrangements of people in your scene, and to wait for them to come to harmony at the instant you press the shutter. Looked at this way, the resulting photograph is a trophy, proof that for a split second you were able to lock on to the world around you. The penalty for failure is to render the photograph inadmissable as evidence: by prohibiting cropping or significant tonal alteration we must (under HC-B's rules) discard the picture and try harder next time. Part skill, part psychology, part self-education.

    See what I mean? The explanation is unsatisfying, if only because it begs the question: what's so special about understanding, about predicting what a bunch of strangers in front of you are about to do? Does the ability to do so make us better people?

    Soon (if not already) it will be possible to continuously record - as a movie or video - a scene in high definition (i.e. 10 megapixels plus) comparable to 35mm film. I wonder whether it's good enough to shoot a few seconds in this manner, at 50 frames per second, and then go back at leisure and pick out the decisive moment from the video sequence? Would Cartier-Bresson have approved? Would being able to do this help develop our ability to understand our fellow man and the world around us? Would it hinder it?

    Perhaps being restricted to one shot and one shot only, requiring skill and understanding to predict the exact instant when the shutter should be pressed, was a better way of doing things after all.
  59. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Perhaps being restricted to one shot and one shot only, requiring skill and understanding to predict the exact instant when the shutter should be pressed, was a better way of doing things after all.
    I think this is nonsense. There is no "better way." There are only different ways.
    The "decisive moment" was HCB's choice. That doesn't mean it was better, or only, as some people have interpreted it. It was one person's way of working, and the mindless adoption of it by some people is as silly as trying to find Ansel Adams' tripod holes at Yosemite.
    Street photographers have worked with other viewpoints, and created their own strong work. A good example is Moriyama, who post-processed the crap out of everything, printed on RC paper, never looked for a decisive moment, yet has created an amazingly vibrant street photography.
    None of this takes away from what HCB did for photography, but to create a scenario in which there is only way of doing street photography will mummify it incredibly quickly. It is certainly what seems to be happening here on photo.net, and I doubt it would be something HCB would find particularly gratifying, based on the interviews I've seen.
  60. The "HCB" method isn't the only way of making street photography. It's one way. I can understand some people get annoyed at its dogma. But it is a good discipline: shoot it how you want it at the time, or discard the neg.
  61. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    It's not that it's one way. It's someone else's way. If one wants to be a slave to the memory, fine, but it's the antithesis of creativity. It's why the most interesting stuff going on now has nothing to do with HCB or Ansel Adams, because people are doing their own thing, enhancing, moving on.
  62. I've written far more (and I think a good bit better) than I have photographed, and perhaps for that reason I do not understand the obsession with getting it right the first time, full frame, without cropping. Cropping and post-processing are editing--"rewrites" if you will--and I will always appreciate the final outcome, and typically the final outcome is better than the first glance, as the finished novel is better than the first draft.

    Persons are certainly free both to discipline and evaluate themselves and their work any way that they please, but they need not be surprised if the world does not slavishly follow their example. HCB was an important figure in the development of modern photography, but his method and his own self-imposed constraints are not the only viable ones--but they are very important ones deserving the greatest of respect. This is not to take anything away from the man, a veritable genius. It is to try to put him and his work in historical perspective.

    I will still be guided abover all by Ansel Adams' view that photography begins after the picture is taken, a view almost completely antithetical to the views ascribed to HCB--but I hope that I will have enough sense to appreciate both approaches, and others besides. I feel no need to come down at either extreme.

    There is no one right answer to such questions. Photography is a game of sorts, and one may impose upon oneself the rules that one pleases, and I do believe that the greats were great primarily because they refused to let anyone else's opinion interfere with their artistic visions, methods, and aspirations.

    It is that independence of thought and creativity that inspires me the most about HCB, but I can still appreciate others, just as I can appreciate both Rembrandt and Gauguin--not to mention Van Gogh and even Warhol and the later Picasso. I can also simultaneously appreciate the crisp sentences of Hemingway and the long and tortuous emanations from Faulkner, without taking away anything from any of them for not being like the others.

    Greatness is not encapsulated in a method or a style, but in something else that emanates from within the person. HCB had that something. I respect it and even revere it. I do not worship it.

    It is, at its core, individuality, a certain distinctiveness that comes from the very soul of the artist, in any medium. John Keats had it in poetry: "I never wrote one single line of poetry with the least shadow of public thought." (to J.H. Reynolds, April 9, 1818)

    The greats do not allow public adulation to interfere with their own judgments as to what should be done. They make their own calls, but above all they continue to create and to share, leaving the critics to pick the bones.
  63. Skill and understanding or just good old fashioned intuition? When asked about his method Henri states, What does it matter? It did not appear to matter as much to him as it does to some who would like to imagine themselves capable of emulating his talent. Fortunately present company can be excluded since I know everyone here has plenty of talents of their own.

    I thought Walker Evans would be an interesting photographer to study after viewing some of his photographs taken of subjects that were very interesting to me. The conclusion (right or wrong) that I came to afterwards was that Walker Evans was a pretty lousy photographer and editor in many ways. Unlike Henri, Walker cropped extensively often cutting his original negatives (crooked) making it very difficult to make a print as if it were not already nearly impossible to make a print from one of his negatives.

    Getting it right the first time is a good ethic and something worth working towards. I feel fortunate if I get it right at all.

    Lannie - Your comment makes me believe there are not many ?Greats? left in this world because public adulation (and dollars) appears to be the driving force in our society these days.

    Jeff ? I admire your passion for advancing the human experience. If only you could turn you attention to fixing the religions of the world (of which photography is one of the most difficult to comprehend).

    Tony ?The explosive moment? Dummett - Thanks again for the thought provoking comments. I am still looking forward to enjoying a cold beverage with you one of these days.
  64. The answers above have confirmed my view about HC-B's technique: the reasons why he did what he did, in the way he did, are unsatisfactory, except to himself.

    Lovely to hear from you Dennis and Lannie. I'll have one on both your "accounts" tonight.
  65. I like to shoot full frame. I find it far more satisfying to involve
    myself at the location and get the photograph there than trying to
    finding it in the darkroom. Of course darkroom work is very important
    for me as well. But at that time it is simply making the best print

    I'm drawn to the implicit reality of photography. Full-frame film
    photography I believe is the highest expresion of that. Digital
    imaging is at the opposite extreme. I find the flexiblity in digital
    imaging destroys this implicit sense of reality. I find I don't
    "believe" the digital image. I just dismiss it as clever processing.

    Whether photography can actually show any objective reality is
    another question. Probably not. But I enjoy the limits of straight

    BTW, about "Gare St. Lazarre" being cropped. I read it somewhere and
    if I find the source, I will post it. Also, there is a recent
    collection of Cartier-Bressons work printed and distributed to
    institutions around the world. This was a very limited edition of
    around four hundred of his most significant work. That image was
    included of course. That one and three others did not have a
    trademark black frame of full-frame printing. Why those out of 411
    prints? Curious to print 407 showing the black frame, but not those
    four. But that is not proof. I will look for the source.
  66. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I find myself drawn to photographs filled with inspiration and passion rather than those taken full frame. But I guess that's just me...
  67. But I enjoy the limits of straight photography.
    And I like working without artificial self-imposed restraints.
    With respect to your sought-after implicit sense of reality that digital imaging doesn't seem to provide, I trust that also means you only shoot color, right? Unless of course you have a medical condition where you are 100% color-blind.
  68. Many excellent photographers have taken aspects from Cartier-Bresson's way of seeing, and continue to do so. Cartier-Bresson took from Kertesz. So have Capa, Erwitt, Frank, Friedlander, Winogrand, Salgado, Nachtwey, Alex Webb, and lots of others. Each takes a bit of influence and goes their own way with it. There have been very few genuine innovators in any art form. One of the things that's interesting about photography is that it has a history and a heritage. It's typical that artists play on work from the past, and not necessarily in a negative or stagnant way.
  69. "With respect to your sought-after implicit sense of reality that
    digital imaging doesn't seem to provide, I trust that also means you
    only shoot color, right? Unless of course you have a medical
    condition where you are 100% color-blind."

    Brad, I don't quite understand your comment. It seems a little
    aggressive. Have I given you personal offence?

    I was only explaining what I like about photography. I also explained
    that the "reality" in photography was implied but probably not

    My preference for straight photography does not condem any other way
    of taking pictures. a pervious post asked why someone would wan't to
    photograph that way. This was a response to that. I'm glad you do not
    like placing limits on your photography. My limts allows me to enjoy
    photography equally.
  70. "The answers above have confirmed my view about HC-B's technique: the reasons why he did what he did, in the way he did, are unsatisfactory, except to himself.'
    What an excellent response to some uncalled for hamfisted aggression...ahhh makes me smile.
  71. I have nothing to say other than that we have lost a master that was so inherently gifted that it almost seems unfair that such a mind and pair of eyes can't live on forever, but while viewing his photographs one realizes that this is exactly what they are doing; His photographs are preserving the one-of-a-kind brilliance with which he saw our world and I feel blessed to have been shown what it looked like for him.

    Thank you HCB
  72. I don't think that I've heard a single negative thing about HCB in all of the above, except for one attempt to dismiss him and Ansel Adams as both being irrelevant. The general consensus of praise speaks to the greatness of the man, such that no thinking person can deny his creativity and his impact.

    The only point of significant dispute that I can recall is his claim that cropping "dilutes a photograph of its meaning." That one-line dogma ranks up there with Einstein's "God does not play dice with the universe," to which Neils Bohr famously responded, "Who is Einstein to tell God what he can do?"

    Both one-liners are of philosophical significance, and reasoned discussion of them will not end anytime soon, and citing either master as the ultimate authority on the truth of his own dictum will not settle the argument, whatever it may be.

    Fortunately, the greatness of both Cartier-Bresson and Einstein depends solely upon their own stupendous achievements, not on whether or not they were right about every single thing that they ever said. Recognition of greatness does not require idolatry.

    I get an unreasoning backlash almost every time I offer a reasoned critique of Immanuel Kant. One would think that one had committed blasphemy for challenging one who has justifiably been called the "Great Sage of Koenigsberg." I like to remind those who know Kant superficially that he also defended the death penalty and what he called a "categorical imperative of retribution." Their jaws often drop: they have become instant experts on Kant, even though they have never read him carefully or fully. The famed Alfred North Whitehead, in like vein, once said that "All philosophy is a footnote to Plato." Karl Popper, on the other hand, placed Plato in the authoritarian tradition in his own very influential work. Both men were probably--and ironically--corrrect.

    Reasonable persons do civilly disagree about some pretty significant claims about the masters. May it always be so. I like HCB's style and the photos that he produced while working within the discipline of his own self-imposed regimen. I also like the work of many others who have not imposed that particular limitation upon themselves. Vive la difference.
  73. Also here in Holland, HC-B passing away was not unnoticed. Television did a rebroadcast of a documentary made in 2003. In the documentary HC-B showed modesty about his work, his love for painting/drawing.
    Also the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson was mentioned. An institution, created by HC-B himself, his wife Martine Franck and their daughter Melanie, that is aimed at preserving his legacy and to stimulate (young) photographers by a biannual grant program.

    His photographs capture unique, dramatic, decisive moments in life. At the same time the composition in his photographs is exemplary. His work covered all aspects of man?s mortal life: from childhood, falling in love, elder age, till death.

    Many of these frozen moments in time, that are appreciated by so many, will live on for ever (or close to it).
    Among the many photographs by HC-B, that I like, is the picture taken at the Coronation of George VI in 1938. People had been posting all night before the event, in order to have the best place to see the spectacle. The picture shows a man lying on newspapers: he has fallen asleep. A crowd above him is looking at the event an their heads are not directed to camera (they look away from the photographer), only one boy looks directly at the photographer. It seems he is looking at us (perhaps not intentionally ? it does not matter). The picture is not about the pump and circumstance of the coronation, but about ordinary people and their frailty.
    Another one is the little boy, carrying two large bottles of wine. He smiles and is proud, to fulfil this delicate task. As one reviewer rightfully said it, it is as if this boy?s childhood is frozen in time. And so there are more unforgettable photographs by HC-B.

    The greatness of HC-B is perhaps that he has made so many photographs, that are so unique in capturing moments in life and show such great composition. In this HC-B was very special, more special then he wanted us to believe.

    HC-B passed away quietly at the respectable age of 95. And a feeling of gratefulness feels me more than sadness. Grateful for he has left us with so many great touching photographs.
  74. Like everyone else, I found HCB's work a great inspiration and probably the greatest photographic collection in existence. On the matter of his old age grumpiness, painting etc. I disagree with some of these comments. I saw him interviewed, and I say you cannot generalise about someone's entire character from selective footage taken from probably many more hours of footage. The editor wanted to say something, but could equally have said something else. And he WAS an elderly man, probably no more grumpy than many others: it had nothing to do with his photography as such.

    But there's more to it than that. I didn't think he had any desire to get noticed for his painting and was thus irritable and petulant. I found his self-deprecating attitude wonderfully refreshing, in a world when "artists" are some of the most ridiculous and pretentious people in existence. He insisted he wasn't an artist but just 'took pictures' - how wonderfully mature and humble, and how astute, wanting to avoid all the adulation and celebrity bullshit that goes with the word Artist. I felt he was saying 'leave me alone', ie I do not want to be subjected to this tiresome nonsense. If he dismissed his work and had moved on to painting, how wonderful that he was able to 'let go' of such a large amount of work, demonstrating that was on some kind of inner exploration and was not attached to whatever medium he happened to be using.

    He didn't give the usual answers, or the expected answers, but how you interpret that is debateable. I interpret it positively, for the above reasons.
  75. At which site can I see work of Henry?
  76. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Is google blocked on your machine?
  77. What makes HCB was his unique eye for the human and sometimes banal moments that became his photographs. It was not that he photographed great events but he caught ordinary people dealing with life's challenges: leaping across puddles, a trip to get bread from the shop. There was an emotion in his best photographs which made us sympathise with the subject. What was so good about HCB was that he searched for these pictures of ordinary people. A lesser photographer would not have realised they were there to be found. It's not about technique: it's about vision.
  78. My great thanks to Tony Dummett for his insightful obituary on the passing of HC-B.

    I was in Paris the day of his passing being pickpocketed, then Eastward and only today learned of the passing, which explains the comment that appeared on a critique from Doug Hawkes in my portfolio "God Bless Henri Cartier-Bresson!" which he must have been sure I would have understood.

    I worked at AP with a man named Jimmy White who worked in China with Cartier-Bresson, and who described HC-B as small, quiet--almost invisible as he went about his work, as he recounted one day in San Francisco where I was a new hire.

    I didn't know who the heck HC-B was, and I was back from freelancing in Viet-Nam and busy taking "street photographs" -- only now being posted for the first time -- then went to see the giant traveling exhibition of Cartier-Bresson's at a huge San Francisco museum, and when I saw how far short my photograpy fell (and how prolific HC-B was) for the most part I gave up visions of greatness as a "street" photographer.

    There was a whole museum full of images -- magnificent images -- and I had just a handful of maybe worthy images. (See HC-B's book The World of Henri Cartier-Bresson to get an idea of how huge the exhibion and how vast and globe-straddling his work was.) I would then sooner not have heard of HC-B, no matter how devoted an acolyte I am today, for having suffered so badly in the comparison. I turned toward writing and other pursuits. (Many thanks to Photo.net for helping revive my photographic juices).
  79. Not mentioned is one of my favorites -- perhaps one of the most humorous: one goose, in a flock of geese waddling down a French country path, the neck of the goose parallel to the horizon as he was 'looking' to the backside of another, possibly rival goose waddling with the flock, maybe to give his 'rival' a "goose" -- all perfectly composed.

    HC-B was a great philosopher: It seems that in all the scurrying about and praise for his works and even his words in relation to his life and his work, few have realized how profound his expressed philosophy actually was, or how carefully enunciated.

  80. Not mentioned is one of my favorites -- perhaps one of the most humorous: one goose, in a flock of geese waddling down a French country path, the neck of the goose parallel to the horizon as he was 'looking' to the backside of another, possibly rival goose waddling with the flock, maybe to give his 'rival' a "goose" -- all perfectly composed.

    HC-B was a great philosopher: It seems that in all the scurrying about and praise for his works and even his words in relation to his life and his work, few have realized how profound his expressed philosophy actually was, or how carefully enunciated.

  81. I agree that he was interested in a philosophical stance towards life; I think that's what makes his work especially interesting. First, you have a great image. Then, you ask yourself what was he trying to say and what was he feeling when he took that picture? And you find for example, he was interested in Buddhism.

    That's why I liked the way he dismissed his work and refused to give the predictable answers when interviewed. I don't think you can understand that in terms of normal interview discourse - you have to place it in a more philosophical context.
  82. If I read Cartier-Bresson's unauthorizerd autobiography correctly (it is not in front of me) the claim was correct that C-B could not look throuh the viewfinder; it was blocked by a fence board.
    However, he had been at the precise place the day before and seen the same scene, and he had staked out the scene. He had already preframed, prefocused and placed his camera in the correct place for the exposure, and when the man jumped, he was observing, just not through the viewfinder and he made his exposure, just at the magic moment.
    Later in kino (later transformed into video), he suggests that exposure was some sort of 'magic' in which he wasn't looking 'though the viewfinder' without explaining that in fact he was 'looking' just not through the viewfinder, and he purposefully and apparently impishly does not account on how he had preplanned that exposure. He was burnishing his image as some sort of 'magician' or 'wizard' or photography on the one hand, and on the other, having a good jest on his gullible following.
    The old boy was full of life, and his art was part of what he was willing to place into a mystery. He had sworn the man who wrote his biography to secrecy, which was broken (as the biographer explained), much as Cartier-Bresson broke many of life's rules and may have expected.
    John (Crosley)
    Dec. 2011

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