Henri Cartier-Bresson: "Hyères, 1932" WEEKLY DISCUSSION #10

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by dhbebb, Jan 24, 2014.

  1. When I was asked to put forward a picture for discussion, many images went through my mind, but within 30 seconds I had decided on this one:
    HCB was a very important factor in my wanting to become a photographer. "The World Of Cartier-Bresson" was the first photo book I bought, and of all the photographers whose work I own in book form, HCB is the one I come back to most often for inspiration.
    HCB was highly fortunate (and enviable) in that the family fortune made it unnecessary for him to work. He never was a conventional photojournalist, more of an art photographer who did feature assignments, and clearly had no desire to head for the sound of gunfire in search of hard news - there are a few examples in his work of his stumbling on a hard news story, for example French Nazi collaborators getting roughed up at the end of the war, but he spares us the grisly details. His interests seem to have been geometrical composition and surrealism, with a generous measure of humanism stirred in.
    This particular image has been cited as a good example of the "decisive moment", which I think it is - I have also frequently explained this concept as a "1, 2, 3" process, where a photographer (1) sees a subject of interest, (2) decides on viewpoint and framing but then (3) waits for a movable (e.g. a person) or variable (e.g. a lighting effect) element to come just right before taking the picture. Anticipation is an important part of being at the right place at the right time.
    I hope to read some interesting comments, both from those who may not know HCB's work all that well and also from those who do but may care to compare their feelings about his work with those when they experienced it for the first time (nearly 50 years ago in my case).
    I don't want to go on too long, so I won't! Over to you!
  2. I was first introduced to HCB's work in 1965, and I immediately wanted to become the world's greatest "street photographer" capturing "the decisive moment" time after time.
    Several years later, after junior college, college, art school, and a year trying to "be a photographer" I realized that only a select few have the vision and feel that is required to capture the decisive moment, so I concentrated on becoming the best craftsman photographer possible.
    But, HCB's work still raises the hair on the back of my neck. When I visited an exhibition of his works a few years ago I was almost in tears throughout. Whether from the emotional impact of his work or of my lost dreams.
  3. The steps and street look as though they have been scrubbed clean. Interesting geometric lines. It would be interesting to see how it
    looks now. What is it about Mr. Cartier ( was he related) Bresson that has irritated me from the moment he was lauded and held up as a
    superior street photographer?
  4. Charles, I think you have formulated very well what many others have experienced when discovering the works of Bresson and his eye for the decisive moment and the geometrical wonders of composition. Personally, I don't think that any of my shots are untouched by the inspiration of Bresson - together with a small handful of others. He is surely the great reference.
    And yet, when having seen and admired his many masterpieces on walls of museums and galleries, I also find his style, which he masters to perfection in many of his best, has a somewhat static and foreseeable sensation to them. We are surely in the comfort zone quietly contemplating the beauty of it all. The choice of David, "Hyères, 1932", might be one of his best, but clearly with no hints of what happens around Bresson, the year Hitler and the Nazi Party won 230 seats in German parliamentary elections - and two years later he became "Führer".

    "Hyères, 1932" together with "Behind Saint-Lazare station" are maybe his most well-known and maybe even his best examples of the "decisive moment", a moment where geometrical composition is complemented by the almost elusive human element presented in blur and on its way out of the frame in a split of a second later. One thing I have always wondered when looking these prints, is what would have been the difference, if Bresson in both cases had asked his assistant, if he had such one at hand, to pass by numerous times so that the shot was just right. Would it have made a difference to the scene and to our appreciation of its wonders ? I'm not sure. But it might have made a difference to photography as a visual art ever since.
  5. Thanks to all 3 of you for your comments!
    @ Charles - you obviously feel the same way as me!
    @ Robert: Does it make you feel any better to know (if you didn't already) that when asked how he felt about having the title of "World's Greatest Photographer" thrust on him, HCB replied (literally): "B******t!"?
    @ Anders: It is indeed the case that HCB stands at arm's length from the human condition - there is no suggestion of politics with him, certainly no suggestion that Hitler is about to seize power in Germany the next year and ultimately start a process that will cost over 50 million lives. If I recall, the same criticism was made of Edward Weston (by Ansel Adams?).
    One further point - I have read a suggestion (by someone who has seen HCB's contact sheet which includes this pic) that he shot 20 or more frames from this viewpoint. No reason why he shouldn't of course, but this does not chime with the mythology that HCB whipped out his camera instantly und unnoticed and nailed every shot in one!
  6. David when Bresson is said to have shouted ""B******t!"?"" he did probably say : "conneries", which is better translated into "fools talk" - something less vulgar at least, knowing his background.
  7. David when Bresson is said to have shouted ""B******t!"?"" he did probably say : "conneries", which is better translated into "fools talk" - something less vulgar at least, knowing his background.
    He did actually say "BS"(not shouting but laughing) - he was being interviewed in English by the BBC. I've got the interview on DVD as a BBC "Omnibus" program somewhere. The classic English/French disconnect is of course his first book, which in French is called ”Images à la sauvette” (literally “Images on the fly” or “Images on the hoof”), but in English “The Decisive Moment”.
    PS: God bless the Internet :)
  8. There's something about a bicycle that can be very photogenic. Bresson captures that well here. A bicycle has a certain geometry as well as potential (or, in this case, actual) movement that Bresson also presents beautifully here. The geometry of the composition as well as the almost statuesque and, indeed, architectural quality of the spiral staircase, the texture of the stone, the again photogenic and effective high angle of the shot all conspire to make for a photo that draws me in. There's kind of a classic feel to it and it stands out to me as an iconic photo of Bresson's.
    When I recently saw an exhibition of Bresson's work, I was less moved by it as a body of work than I am by some of the more compelling individual images. I did feel the constriction of the geometry overall and there did seem to be a static quality throughout the rooms of the exhibit. Even this photo, considering the motion blur and obvious movement, feels very contained to me. One can look and see a "decisive moment" and be impressed by the timing, the placement of the bike in the frame, etc. One can also feel it's just a little too perfect. And so it can actually seem lacking in spontaneity because the bike is so perfectly placed in the frame.
    My understanding is that it was actually Bresson, himself, who said “The world is going to pieces and people like Adams and Weston are photographing rocks!”
    So it's ironic that such a criticism might also be leveled at Bresson.
    Here's Weston's response to Bresson: “It seems so utterly naïve that landscape is not considered of ‘social significance’ when it has a far more important bearing on the human race of any locale than excrescences called cities."
    In fact, history may have already proven Adams and Weston quite socially significant in terms of their impact on how we view the environment.
    Regardless of Weston's defense (which seems a bit understandably angry even though I don't fault anyone for taking pics of cities), I find the "not political enough" critique wholly without merit. Not every photographer and not any photographer is charged with providing political commentary or insight. Art, even if it is the appreciation of the beautiful, even at its most abstract and least message-oriented, is an emotional outlet, something to be contemplated, and that serves both a personal and a social function, even as lots of great art has no utilitarian function. I certainly appreciate (and love) some of the more political and socially-minded work of people like Lange and Evans, etc. But the world is big enough and I am broad enough to give attention to and appreciate so many different kinds of photography that deal with so many important and different aspects of humanity and the world around me. I don't need a social or political message from every photographer, even in the most political of times (and what times aren't political).
  9. In my opinion, the OP's "I have also frequently explained this concept as a "1, 2, 3" process ..." is a very common and persistent misconception of what HCB advocated. In my opinion, his "decisive moment" was meant to describe the culmination of perfect internalization that obviates any awareness of "1, 2, 3." He loved/advocated the concepts from Zen and the Art of Archery, where, "The archer ceases to be conscious of himself as the one who is engaged in hitting the bull's-eye which confronts him. This state of unconscious is realized only when, completely empty and rid of the self, ... "
    He was conservative, not liberal; his work is not the root of Winogrand's approach, but rather a perfection or evolution of Minor White. Like the Chinese calligrapher who spends a lifetime internalizing and preparing himself so that he can perfectly apply his brush in the blink of an eye. There is no "1, 2, 3" in how a Chinese calligrapher works. There is, rather, a lifetime of preparation to remove all "1,2,3."
    The "decisive moment" is not a shooting gallery, a glorification of speed, self-justifying by the "hit"; it is, rather, the culmination or indication of the discipline of long, disciplined slowing to perfect stillness.
  10. Zen emphasizes the attainment of enlightenment and the personal expression of direct insight in the Buddhist teachings.
    I'm not a Buddhist. I don't consider myself "enlightened", nor have I ever been described as such. So I settle for "1, 2, 3".
    Can those who are Buddhists and/or are "enlightened" tell us how that have affected their photography?
  11. ""tell us how that have affected their photography?""

    That's a long story, Robert. Another time ! :)
  12. I have no idea what HCB might have been thinking when he composed this photo, but its immediate impact on me is "freedom!" The contorted steps twist and wind, leading down into a dark hole, and then around the corner comes a bicyclist, shooting off into the light. It's an interesting photo, to be sure.
  13. At the risk of being called a heretic or worse, I'm not a big fan of his. After looking at much of his work in book form there are some superb images but many of them leave me puzzled. Photo journalism is my favorite thing to do with a camera and I understand the concept of the decisive moment, something I am looking for constantly even if I'm not using a camera. Someone else here said that much of his work wandered off into surrealism and humanism and I guess it did. Neither of those schools of thought intrigue me though. I must be too workaday.
    Rick H.
  14. The '1-2-3 decisive moment' is by far the technique most widely used by photographers all around the world:
    1- see a subject of interest (what about the Colosseum, but any famous place/building works too)
    2- decide on viewpoint and framing (oops! I mean zooming)
    3- wait for your girlfriend/boyfriend to come just right before taking the picture
    I also agree with HCB that you need patience. Some places may be really crowded.
  15. Rick Helmke wrote: "At the risk of being called a heretic or worse, I'm not a big fan of his." Me neither. However, there he is, one of the undeniably major influences on modern photography (and on many photographers for whom I have much more admiration). Therefore he's worth studying, I think.
  16. He may have waited for the "decisive moment" when the bicyclist went by to include him in the picture. But he waited. How many of us wait?
  17. His work is poetry for me. If I had to tell the very reason why I like taking photographs, I'll say because I saw the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson.
  18. James G. Dainis

    James G. Dainis Moderator

    The bicyclist is blurred as the result of using too slow a shutter speed, an amateurish mistake.

    Whenever I goof up like that I improvise and claim that I did it on purpose. "I deliberately blurred the bicyclist to reflect the transient aspect of human life. Human life is short but the rocks live forever." Then I slap a $1,200 price tag on it.
  19. He may have inadvertantly used too slow of a shutter. But the bicycle movement works regardless. Adds to it. Luck is a component of many photos, especially on the street and even when anticipated or planned.
  20. He may have waited for the "decisive moment" when the bicyclist went by to include him in the picture.​
    Or he may have taken many shots with the same composition, and picked this one. Would the waiting (with purpose) and the multiple shots (NOT in the "state of unconscious") disqualify this shot as a "decisive moment"? I think not.
  21. Or perhaps the blur depicts motion. The motion blur in this photo of mine was very deliberate...
    I tried a number of different shutter speeds, and this one worked the best for what I was trying to achieve. Not all photographs attempt to freeze motion.
  22. The motion blur is not a problem. The problem is the total lack of bokeh.
    Sorry. This is, in fact, an image I've long admired, in part because of the blurred cyclist. The geometry of the stairs, the circular patterns and all of that come together perfectly.
  23. Sarah: I like your horsey picture. Here's mine. I took 10 or 15 shots until I got the movement and subjects I wanted. It was all auto exposure too with a P&S. Is this luck, planning, decisive moment? Maybe we overrate pros genius and "knock" our own abilities. There's a certain amount of putting famous people on pedestals.
  24. Interesting comments – I hope they keep coming!
    Blur – if the bike bugs anyone, try this :) :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:photograph_of_Alberto_Giacometti_by_Cartier_Bresson.jpg
    1, 2, 3 versus Zen archer: I would agree that any artist (photographer, musician, sculptor, …) working at HCB’s level would be doing so in the reflexive and intuitive way of the Zen archer. With beginners, on the other hand, standard teaching technique, at least as far as I am concerned, is to break tasks down into manageable pieces and practise each one separately, slowly and (at first) with conscious mental effort until the student can progress to the higher level of a single seamless action.
    “ … the "not political enough" critique …”: the words "enough" and “critique” are not mine! I don’t have any problem with an artist who has no overt political agenda, I simply feel this is a true statement regarding HCB. Not sure about “conservative” – HCB has perhaps the natural conservatism of someone of his social class, he was certainly not going to knock the capitalist system that gave him his artistic freedom, but at the same time I feel it appropriate to call him a humanist. I feel this is evidenced above all by his work and also, for example, by the fact that he opposed the election of Martin Parr to Magnum, on the grounds that MP’s work was driven by superficial snobbery.
    Just one thing bugs me about HCB’s politics, and it is this:
    This was taken at Dessau, a displaced person’s camp after the end of WWII – HCB was working as a stills man on an Allied propaganda film intended to have the message “Look – we’re civilised – even with Nazi collaborators, we give them a fair shake!” The whole area of collaborators is a very muddy one in French history, it is fairly well known that female collaborators were frequently head-shaved, tarred and feathered and beaten – male collaborators were not treated so “mercifully”, being simply taken out and shot. A true news reporter, I feel, would have gone after this story, notwithstanding that it was one no-one at the time wanted to hear – HCB for whatever reason was content to turn in pix like the above and move on.
  25. " … the "not political enough" critique …”: the words "enough" and “critique” are not mine!"
    David, I wasn't referring to what you said. It was in response to some other comments in addition to what Bresson said about photographing rocks, which had been brought up here as well.
  26. ""A true news reporter, I feel, would have gone after this story, notwithstanding that it was one no-one at the time wanted to hear – HCB for whatever reason was content to turn in pix like the above and move on.""

    David, as far as I can read from your own link to what Bresson wanted with his shot of the Belgian Gestapo informer is somewhat more sophisticated than what you propose. Bresson is quoted to have said:
    ""‘Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.’""
  27. "interesting geometric lines."
    And I would add a clever angle....but more about Art than the perception of the humanity; but then he was more into Art than a understanding of humanity. The humanity side was more about turning a coin...a job.
    Talk a good enough story, be articulate, and the world of Photography seems to becomes your oyster.
    Having said that I respect his work. All praise to him for his achievements and legacy...but he really wanted to be a Artist.
    And that really was him.
  28. HCB was a huge influence on my early photography. My own tribute to this photo is here.
    I grew up in a French town in Quebec, before the 'internet'. I didn't have a lot of influences, there was no museum or art gallery, the library had nothing except Antoine Desilet's book on darkroom technique, and the newstands had the usual gearhead mags and little else. The only magazine on the newstand with actual photographs (besides National Geographic) was the French mag Photo. It was there that I discovered HCB, Doisneau, Helmut Newton, Weston, Mapplethorpe, and David Hamilton (I still have the Cokin soft filter I bought afteer seeing his images...). Did I mention I was a lonely teenager with a camera?
  29. I feel that I should have an opinion of HCB by now, but I don't really. So I google-imaged him and it was clear even from the thumbnails that he had something special. The particular image in question seems a bit formulaic for my tastes. I'm not a big fan of waiting about for something happen while making sure you have a pretty foreground. I can't exactly fault it, but....
  30. Playing with the decisive moment idea in landscape (I had to reduce it a lot to show it here, it's also in my PN portfolio):
  31. I like the geometric components in the composition, the angles of the stairway contrasting the curve of the road. I'm betting that HCB scouted the location and then waited for something to come along to fill the open space to the left. The cyclist was the perfect additional element.
    I think of this as the spider web approach to photography - set up all of the elements and wait until an appropriate subject passes through the frame. Then expose at just the right moment. When it works, the technique yields a satisfying combination of a thoughtfully crafted composition with a surprise element. Delightful!
  32. David, my gut impression, on viewing the "informant" photo, was not positive towards the "accuser." The look of frenzied glee in her eyes is creepy, and there is nothing about the photo that suggests, to me, that the "accused" woman is going to get a fair shake. It looks to me like she's in deep @$#%. Perhaps I am too detached from this moment in history, but the photo, to me, is a rather sad commentary on the darker side of human nature.
  33. Sarah, I appreciate your response. In reply, I would first say that my impression was that no-one in 1945 was bending over backwards to be nice to Nazis or Nazis collaborators - when I say that the Allies were trying to say "Even with Nazis, we're giving them a fair shake", I mean (as in the case of the Nuremberg trials) "a fair shake consisting of a fair trial and a fair hanging".
    My overriding feeling on seeing this picture, however, and on reflecting that HCB's published work seems to contain virtually no images of World War II, is that while HCB responded to WWII in other direct ways (membership of the French resistance, leading to internment in a prison camp from which he escaped), he was somehow unable to respond in the form of images.
    Above all, I contrast HCB's few war images with the work of a true hard news man like George Rodger:
    Rodger spoke of being so numbed by the horror of Bergen-Belsen that he could only work by switching to auto-pilot but even so was able to make images like the one above, which says in classic visual terms that something truly dreadful has happened - not only have people died, not only have their bodies lain unburied to be gnawed by animals, but this insane and abominable situation has been going on for so long that for the little boy it is normal. HCB was utterly incapable of making an image like this - and yet he and Rodger apparently had great respect for each other, since they were both co-founders of Magnum!
  34. "HCB was utterly incapable of making an image like this"
    David, I'm curious about this. Have you read something along these lines about Bresson or is it just your own choice of words. What I'm wondering (and I honestly don't know, since I haven't read about Bresson and his thoughts about WWII photos) is whether he was or whether he, himself, thought he was incapable of making such images or whether he, for whatever reasons he may have had, chose not to.
    I know for myself that there are some images I'm capable of making and yet have chosen not to make them for a variety of reasons. At the same time, he may well have felt incapable, also for a variety of reasons.
  35. A love of humanity and humour are the two qualities of Cartier-Bresson and his images that touch me. The example image chosen by David, at the town (city today?) of Hyères on the Mediteranean shore is one mainly of humour, as the wheels of a bicycle and the blur of motion makes the spiral staircase into something much more alive and dynamic than an occasionally used but nonetheless static architectural element that it is. Ibid for the curved street.
    I don't think Cartier-Bresson was one to create images in the manner of using actors or props or setting up in a concerted manner his subject matter. His extraordinary talent, coupled with the two qualities I associate with his work, was to research and discover what others often overlook and to imbue his subjects with humour and humanity. I particularly love his image of a French lady of the rural bourgeosie savouring a glass of Chablis or whatever white wine, alone in a restaurant, or the image of two dark clothed woman walking on a sidewalk and in perfect synergy with two classic stone sculpted classic figures set on a directly overhead outcrop of the building architecture. The decisive moment was when everything came together in his head, off the beaten track of other photographers.
    His humanity and humour may be equalled by others of his beloved "Hexagone"(Edouard Boubat for humanity, perhaps Jaccques-Henri Lartigue for humour?) but combining the two was for me at least his powerful trademark.
  36. I know I've already confessed somewhere, sometime on PN to not having studied the history of photography. Although I am acquainted with Cartier-Bresson's name, I'm in no position to compare him with any other photographer, famous or otherwise. I'm also not able to say whether his work somehow has informed mine. If other photographers have influenced my work, I must say they're all on PN. (You know who you are.)
    As to the image under discussion: I see it as a simple, direct commentary on the human condition. The blur of the man riding the bicycle shows that humankind is imperfect, and the shapes in the stone and metal illustrate that geometry (at least the Euclidean sort) is as close to perfection as a human endeavor can get. There you have it. To me, the image is eminently successful in motivating viewers to determine what story it tells.
  37. Reading the last two analyses, mine included, suggests to me that we are often prone to ascribing much to a picture that probably has a simpler communication than what we make it out to be. I suspect that such (overly imaginative?) analyses have often more to do with our own attitude or experience or invention and possibly less with that of the artist. However, ass viewers, that is our perogative. That Cartier-Bresson was a superb observer of mankind and his environment is unquestionable. I'm not sure it says anything about the power of his photographs and his satisfaction or not with the medium, but he later rejected photography for sketching and painting, finding the latter media more satisfying and conducive to artistic expression.
    He might therefore be shocked that someone would presently want to pay $18,000 for a copy of Hyère 1932, when his sense of artistic value values were more attached to the medium of painting.
    One of the finest photographs he was associated with, but only a subject-creator of, was a simple portrait of himself and his young grandchild close to his side by a wall outside his house, an image in which the apparent love of the little girl for the man is only equaled by that reciprocated by grandpa Henri. What better reward at the end of one's career?
  38. I found this about C-B's war years.
    "At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Cartier-Bresson joined the French Army’s film and photo unit. His work involved filming and photographing artillery fire, road bombardments and troop movements. However, in June 1940, he was taken prisoner by the German army and was held for more than three years, most of which were spent doing hard manual labour."
    That might explain his lack of further interest in war action photography. Further information at:


    Possibly the facial expression of the woman denouncing the Belgian collaborator is no more revealing than that of a split second fragment of her denounciation that undoubtedly sourced an expression of disdain. A video clip might have shown her with a slightly different overall demeanour, but the spit second fragment does convey a powerful message.
  39. We've had a good run on this thread, but perhaps fatigue is setting in - I see Arthur quoted a link that I also quoted a page ago. Still, if it draws the link to more people's attention, never mind :).
    @ Fred: You ask "David, I'm curious about this. Have you read something along these lines about Bresson or is it just your own choice of words." The answer is - it's my own choice of words, based on a study of my 6 or 7 HCB books and some web pages. Until Magnum invite me to spend a week at their HQ viewing HCB's contact-sheet archive, educated guesswork is the best I can do :).
    There is quite a variety of personality types among war photographers, from the roaring buccaneer (Capa, Sean Flynn, Tim Page) through to the hardworking artisan (such as Larry Burrows), the quiet introvert (Don McCullin, for example) or the professorial type (James Nachtwey), but they have one thing in common - tremendously strong commitment to what is a very dangerous occupation.
    HCB does not strike me as this type at all - which I in no way mean as a criticism. I admirer HCB enormously for the large body of work he created from a highly individual viewpoint - and I think everyone agrees that this is what he had, whether they actually personally like it or not.
  40. "Perhaps fatigue is setting in"
    Is it not best to allow free expression of ideas on HCB and the photo in question, given also that it is not yet mid week?
  41. A bit late to this discussion. I like the sense both of the swirling movement and the static solidity in the shot. It seems to me to be, as Roberto said, a poem : In this case about the action of life taking place amid the unchanging framework of the town.
    From a technical point of view I believe HCB at this time used a Leica I - so with a viewfinder but no rangefinder. For him the rangefinder got in the way of his photography. A case of less is more.
  42. From a technical point of view I believe HCB at this time used a Leica I - so with a viewfinder but no rangefinder. For him the rangefinder got in the way of his photography. A case of less is more.
    Don't forget that the Leica II was launched in 1932, maybe after HCB took this shot. Of course HCB was not a gearhead - I am sure he didn't camp outside his Leica dealership overnight to be the first one to get a model II :).
  43. From the article about the informer photo:
    "At the moment the picture was taken, the informer stands with her head bowed in shame while the woman accusing her bares her teeth and raises her arm, filled with rage and the desire for revenge. Their contrasting expressions symbolise the feelings of people on the winning and losing sides in a long and devastating war: the triumphant anger of people finally liberated from the tyranny of Nazi control and the humiliation of the German defeat."
    This is quite a leading interpretation by Mr. Clark, who wrote the article. I'm ignorant of Clark and he may be privy to information that I'm not aware of, but I'll offer a question about his take on the photo.
    My main concern is the supposed shame the informer is showing. First of all, is it shame? Or are we projecting shame onto her because that's what more human people than she would expect to be felt? If it is shame, is it shame at what she's done or shame at being caught and humiliated in public like this?
    Does the accuser have a "desire for revenge"? I don't know. Perhaps she does and perhaps she's stated as much. But what I see could as easily be a spontaneous and unbridled show of hatred or even glory at identifying this woman. Revenge is going a step further and I don't see that the picture shows that, though some of Mr. Clark's followup descriptions of the events and subsequent photos may suggest the revenge aspect.
    Again, from the article:
    " . . . Cartier-Bresson wrote that his aim was to ‘preserve life in the act of living’, and added: ‘Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.’ That’s exactly what he achieves in this image."
    I'm skeptical of the word and concept of "essence" though I think Bresson describes it in a way I can relate to. If "essence" is meant to suggest the absolute truth of the moment or the definitive view of a situation or the defining understanding of the scene then I find it problematic. So, Clark is not describing what Bresson has captured, not describing the essence of the situation but rather a somewhat presumptive point of view, IMO. What Bresson seems to mean (or at least what I'd like to think he means) by capturing the "essence" leaves it more open and more filled with possibility, which I think is quite significant, especially from a photographer of his stature and experience . . . "some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes." "In the process . . . " suggests change and fluidity, something often made too fixed and complete in discussions of the "decisive moment." Bresson's moments (and those of photographers in general) may be more suggestive of a process, of the flow out of which they come, including the future beyond the moment, than they are the fixing of an understanding or a particular instant in time.
  44. David, I just re-read your own post above about this informer photo.
    "HCB for whatever reason was content to turn in pix like the above and move on."
    I wonder if a photographer's "detachment", which I find in much of Bresson's work, also will extend even to political photos. He may truly not have had an agenda, allowing his camera to reveal what a situation had to offer but allowing viewers the space to read into them and not giving viewers too much of the personal. I happen to find his body of work wanting for that but at the same time, as you also suggest, respect that way of wanting to work. He may precisely not have been looking for the news story and, instead, allowing significant moments of life to unfold and be photographed without making judgments, but committed to a showing and revelation nonetheless. He was kind of breathing life and there is a certain abstractness in the breaths he takes that may not square well with "news" photography.
  45. "French civilians castigate mother of three children with unproven acts of treason. The French mob appears to have stooped to vigilantism and street justice."
  46. Alan, can you tell us why you posted this unattributed and out-of-context quote, who said it, and for what reason you posted it? Thanks.
  47. It's an experiment. I totally made up the caption. But it could have been as true as the original caption. Or as false. I believe that captions influence our interpretations of photographs. It's not that the pictue is lying but that our understanding of what it means is shifted by verbiage. I wanted to see if viewers can look at this photo differently. What would they think if they never saw it before, didn't know HCB photographed it and it had no caption? Or what would they think if it did have the caption I created?
  48. Alan's hypothetical caption seems as apt as any interpretation of that Dessau 1945 photo. My first thought upon seeing that bared-teeth accuser was "You showed your teeth like apes, and fawned like hounds, and bowed like bondmen", Marc Antony's rebuke to what he perceived as treachery in Brutus and Cassius. Yet Antony himself proved just as duplicitous and conniving as Caesar's assassins, just as ruthless and just as incompetent to be a real leader.
    Each narrative of that iconic photo seems to reinterpret it, however subtly, to suit the preferences and prejudices of the viewer. And we assume the apelike grimace of the accuser represents a righteous accusation and lawful witness, while the resigned physical posture of the accused woman represents guilt. At least one audio narrative I've heard seems to imply the apparent accuser in that photo was herself suspected of collusion and was trying to redirect suspicion toward another person. And this blogger claims
    "The picture did not appear in the film because Cartier-Bresson’s fingers were indeed faster than the rolling film — a testament to his eerily ability to predict an impending “Decisive Moment”."
    which is clearly incorrect. If the blogger had carefully watched the short video clip from Le Retour - linked on the blog - the moment HCB captured on still film was clearly visible in the movie (at approx. the 0:25 mark of the 0:39 second clip), when the bared-teeth woman slaps at the accused woman.
    Yet HCB's legend seems to have overwhelmed objectivity.
    It's no wonder we're still talking about HCB and his photos: We're actually talking about our personal conceptions of the man, the myth, the Leica-slinger, the legendary fastest shutter finger in the Western world, and what we believe we see in his photos. Like every scriptural, mythical and legendary character and his or her narrative and creative output, we're often mesmerized by our own interpretations.
  49. "French civilians castigate mother of three children with unproven acts of treason. The French mob appears to have stooped to vigilantism and street justice."
    Alan, in a way this is my point. All over the liberated and formerly Nazi-occupied countries, real-life incidents were taking place like the fictional one you describe. Not only that, but semi-officially-sanctioned hit squads of Jewish British and American soldiers were traveling these areas looking to find and knock off former Nazi collaborators. My feeling is that, by cooperating in the making of the film at Dessau, showing a collaborator getting some kind of due process of law, HCB was by accident or design participating in a snow job to disguise the level of extra-judicial killing that was going on (the "victims" most certainly had it coming, but that doesn't make their killings legal).
  50. If he were alive, perhaps Cartier-Bresson would have been intrigued by the 1991 Danish (Von Trieur) film "Europa" (titled "Zentropa" in N.A.), which depicts the social chaos of immediate post war Europe, an idealistic American youth amongst pro-Nazis and Nazi hunters. A film for photographers to see.
  51. Excuse the deviation from the H-C-B photo, but I should delete "If he were alive," from my recent post, as the photographer died in 2004. So perhaps he saw this astonishing film and may have appreciated its somewhat confusing but intriguing content on a similar subject.
    Like the referenced film, the Dessau photo also shows us only a fraction of what happened before and after and leaves questions about the events and human behaviour unfolding immediately after the war. It is a photographic "tour de force" with Von Trieur and his associates using both black and white and color, double-exposures, various optical effects and trick photography, with the film's characters placed as one film critic described within a multilayered visual world that reduces them to small insects under microscope glass plate observation in a laboratory. The drowning scene is particularly visual and powerful, with Max Von Siddow's final words. All this photography may not relate specifically to this week's fine topic for discussion and to Cartier-Bresson, but if you take cinema as an inspiration for photography the film Europa is possibly a worthwhile see.
  52. Arthur, I agree, Von Trier is an image maker of historical dimension, in line with his compatriot Karl Th. Dreier, by the way, and can be appreciated, like Bresson, for their respective very personal way of showing us the world - and "telling a story".
  53. Photos have always been used for propaganda, especially in war. But even in peacetime, photos play a powerful role in politics, economics, science, etc. Captions are often not under the control of the photographers but rather the editorial control people of newspapers, magazines, TV, etc. They write the captions. As my false caption attempted to do was to create a truth that wasn't the truth about a truthful picture. Or wasn't it?
    Viewer beware.
  54. Interestingly, a savvy viewer is wise to beware whether there's a caption or not. Many reactions even to my own humble photos presume things about the subjects of my portraits from what is shown in the photos (because of caught micro-expressions, the effect of lighting and perspective, etc.) which are sometimes as theatrical as they are accurate about the person depicted. It can be quite enlightening to hear what "truths" and "essences" are projected on these subjects who are often quite remote from a particular photographic depiction, often by design. All that notwithstanding, however, that's why I love photography. Because even though what viewers interpret to be the case may not necessarily be accurate in terms of the subject's personality, there is often a ring of significant truth to what they're seeing, on a more universal human level. Truth in photography is an elusive thing, and illusion in photography can actual get at important truths. Captions and accompanying text can be an integral part of a lot of different types of photography and have great significance, and one is wise to maintain some degree of skepticism especially in today's world of so-called "journalism," but obviously going back several eras as well.
  55. The Bard: "....and fawned like hounds..."
    Ah, the much maligned dog, unfairly described in that play by the use of an unfitting caption.
  56. Back to the image in hand; the composition and dynamic of 'Hyeres, 1932' conform approximately to the Golden Mean or Golden Section. I presume this was somewhere in HCB's mind when he took this shot.
  57. "...the composition and dynamic of 'Hyeres, 1932' conform approximately to the Golden Mean or Golden Section. I presume this was somewhere in HCB's mind when he took this shot."​
    And it may have been in his subconscious mind. We are steeped in examples from the natural world, and in Western culture by examples of art and design adhering to that paradigm. Naturally we would be at least unconsciously influenced toward composing that way. And naturally, as viewers, we would consciously expect to see it in photos, art and design created by others, whether or not it was consciously intended by the creator.

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