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Author Topic: Cartier-Bresson article  (Read 14095 times)

GrahamBy

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Cartier-Bresson article
« on: February 29, 2016, 06:50:23 am »

Yes, I like Cartier-Bresson's work. However he's already famous, so I wonder if we need to build him up to super-human level in a poetic elegy?

Exhibit 1: "and the play on words arising from the “Railowsky” poster appearing in a railway station"

Well yes, except that HCG was French, and the word "rail" doesn't really occur in any of the French words associated with ralways: it was behind "la gare", which serves "le chemin de fer" ("paths of iron"). I'd say fortuitous, rather than pre-visualised.

Exhibit 2: "the running boy in this image was probably previsualized by Cartier-Bresson"

Well maybe. I'd probably believe he imagined a person walking into that space... it'd be interesting to see the contact sheet, I doubt he waited for a running boy before exposing any film.

Exhibit 3: "Cartier Bresson uses the subject, a little girl standing on a man’s outstretched hand, to turn a dynamic waiting stage — the natural canvas of water, mountain and clouds behind the girl — into a static painting."

That's certainly a challenging juxtaposition: "dynamic waiting". Especially when it's a lake and some hills that are doing the waiting, objects not usually noted for their dynamic potential. In fact the sentence makes no sense to me at all, and reads like the sort of post-modernist Lacanian stream of consciousness crap that art has been afflicted with for the last 40 years or so.

Exhibit 4, back behind the station: "The location of the right heel of the man jumping from the ladder in Behind the Gare – so perfectly timed – reveals an unseen world, flashing before our eyes, normally veiled by the flow of time."

Really? No one ever imagined that there is a moment before a splash? Didn't J-H Lartigue do similar things many, many times?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/staticarchive/591b5a0d1cbfe0f9bdce77759633228736f7ce6d.jpg
« Last Edit: February 29, 2016, 09:54:07 am by GrahamBy »
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stamper

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #1 on: February 29, 2016, 07:05:05 am »

He hasn't been mentioned on here - as far as I know - for a while so another thread about him won't go amiss. Unfortunately there won't be a consensus of opinion as to how good he was because there hasn't been one in the past. Personally speaking I am neutral in my thinking about him. ::)

Sophia

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #2 on: February 29, 2016, 12:45:00 pm »

For me, it's not a question of whether he deserves another 'poetic elegy' or whether there is consensus as to how good he was.  It's the problem of yet another article/thread reducing his body of work to the 'decisive moment' mantra.  (To be clear, I'm not specifically criticizing this author or this article, just that nearly all writings/ discussions are solely focused on the 'decisive moment' theme.) As though his photography was all about waiting on the streets for someone to jump or ride by on a bicycle or make some motion that he captured at precisely the right time.

What about the rest of his work? Where are the articles discussing his strong Surrealist influences, without which the 'decisive moment' would have had much less visual impact? What about his photojournalism work or his environmental portraiture?  Or even his film work?

There is so much more to Cartier-Bresson.  And even if limited to the 'decisive moment', so much more to his photographs than the, well, decisive moment.  I'd love to read an informed article about the difference between the millions of photos of people caught yawning on a bus or sleeping on a park bench or walking under a funny poster, etc. and the visual art captured within Cartier-Bresson's photos.

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Sophia

Rob C

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #3 on: February 29, 2016, 02:15:57 pm »

Welcome, Sophia; nice to have you aboard!

Good points re. HC-B, but perhaps this isn't possible in a website environment: it needs yet another book...

Maybe it's a case of better some mention than none.

Rob C

Isaac

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #4 on: February 29, 2016, 02:29:21 pm »

What about the rest of his work?

Perhaps your local library can borrow a definitive book from some less local library:

Henri Cartier-Bresson : Here and Now -- … the more than 30,000 photographs that he left to posterity have been carefully conserved and classified by the foundation that bears his name, and it is obvious to all that the concept of 'the decisive moment', while applicable to some of his most famous pieces, is far to restrictive to encompass this vast body of work.

Through his meetings with the Surrealists, it was as if he had been programmed to become a Communist. … From the moment when Cartier-Bresson began to collaborate with the Communist press, in the spring of 1936, his subjects were largely determined by the editors for whom he worked and the ideology they championed.
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Rob C

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #5 on: February 29, 2016, 03:29:41 pm »

"Through his meetings with the Surrealists, it was as if he had been programmed to become a Communist. … From the moment when Cartier-Bresson began to collaborate with the Communist press, in the spring of 1936, his subjects were largely determined by the editors for whom he worked and the ideology they championed."

Not sure if this is a quotation or the poster's own view; however, as with many other Paris-based photographers of the time, they were getting much of their work from the left-wing press, and that certainly explains the great volume of work shot in the slummier areas of Paris: exactly the material required to push an agenda. Let's face it: many of these photographers were of Jewish descent, had faced great dangers just to survive and to escape to a safer land; as émigrés they had little natural love for the largely fascist regimes that caused their exodus, and it's often all too easy to conflate - wrongly - right-wing with fascist... It's selfish, I know, but from their pain came a lot of great work giving many of us pleasure today, as well as historical record of times past/lost.

We had a smaller-scale version of the same work going down in Britain pre-WW2; however, the new post-war wave of thought (and marketable material) was to the new future we all saw coming - which for almost all, it did. But it didn't completely die: the English Sunday colour supplements, as in The Sunday Times, The Observer and Telegraph did their stint with documentary, but even there it ended up being about entertainment. America had its parallels on an even grander scale in at least one magical name: Life.

But it all has to keep changing or lose buyers. Proprietors of the new breed are not idealists. And now, it's not even competition amongst peers: it's new media.

Rob

GrahamBy

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #6 on: February 29, 2016, 04:27:34 pm »

I certainly didn't mean to belittle HCB... thanks Sophia for saying it more clearly than me :-)
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James Clark

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #7 on: February 29, 2016, 06:21:43 pm »

"Through his meetings with the Surrealists, it was as if he had been programmed to become a Communist. … From the moment when Cartier-Bresson began to collaborate with the Communist press, in the spring of 1936, his subjects were largely determined by the editors for whom he worked and the ideology they championed."

Not sure if this is a quotation or the poster's own view; however, as with many other Paris-based photographers of the time, they were getting much of their work from the left-wing press, and that certainly explains the great volume of work shot in the slummier areas of Paris: exactly the material required to push an agenda. Let's face it: many of these photographers were of Jewish descent, had faced great dangers just to survive and to escape to a safer land; as émigrés they had little natural love for the largely fascist regimes that caused their exodus, and it's often all too easy to conflate - wrongly - right-wing with fascist... It's selfish, I know, but from their pain came a lot of great work giving many of us pleasure today, as well as historical record of times past/lost.

We had a smaller-scale version of the same work going down in Britain pre-WW2; however, the new post-war wave of thought (and marketable material) was to the new future we all saw coming - which for almost all, it did. But it didn't completely die: the English Sunday colour supplements, as in The Sunday Times, The Observer and Telegraph did their stint with documentary, but even there it ended up being about entertainment. America had its parallels on an even grander scale in at least one magical name: Life.

But it all has to keep changing or lose buyers. Proprietors of the new breed are not idealists. And now, it's not even competition amongst peers: it's new media.

Rob

Interesting historical perspective - thanks!   As a (degreed) student of history, but not specifically art history, it's always seemed to me that it would be near impossible to fully understand, if not art as a whole, but certainly documentary art, without a relevant knowledge of the times and circumstances surrounding its creation.
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Christopher Sanderson

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #8 on: March 02, 2016, 01:54:51 pm »

Since this topic devolved into a tiresome and negative sniping match, I have split it.

Its rump is banished to the Coffee Corner
« Last Edit: March 02, 2016, 02:08:12 pm by Chris Sanderson »
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Isaac

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #9 on: March 02, 2016, 04:03:34 pm »


… it's always seemed to me that it would be near impossible to fully understand, if not art as a whole, but certainly documentary art, without a relevant knowledge of the times and circumstances surrounding its creation.

Yes, without relevant context we are likely to misunderstand or simply miss what was meant. However, having seen how Clément Chéroux puts Cartier-Bresson's photographs into context, I'd say the relevant context is quite narrow.

We have to know such & such was taken to represent French colonialism, to understand why the statue is "pointing" in that photo. We have to understand that those photos were made for a communist evening newspaper to celebrate holidays for workers newly introduced by a French socialist government, to understand why they show those people relaxing along the river bank.

I don't think it particularly helps to know that Cartier-Bresson was an heir to one of France’s larger industrial fortunes or that his mother was Catholic.
« Last Edit: March 02, 2016, 05:38:07 pm by Isaac »
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Schewe

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #10 on: March 03, 2016, 01:09:57 am »

I don't think it particularly helps to know that Cartier-Bresson was an heir to one of France’s larger industrial fortunes or that his mother was Catholic.

Actually, I think it does. It explains how somebody could afford to spend the money needed to actually learn how to become a photojournalist in that time. He could afford to shoot the way he wanted until he found an audiance that was willing to pay him to shoot.

I really like HCB for his images but he wasn't actually a great photographer (nor a great printer). I saw a major retrospective show of him at the Chicago Art Institute...there were a ton of his own made prints and I gotta tell you, they were't all that great. The photographs that were reproduced in magazines were often quite small which hid the photographic short comings. There were a lot of images, when printed bigger (like 11x14) that showed a lot of missed-focus, camera shake and blown highlights or plugged shadows. The prints themselves tended to be sloppy and in many cases poorly processed with a lot of fixer stains–often due, I suspect to trying to meet deadlines. Many of the prints in the show came from the various magazines he worked for.

But the one thing that always came through was the composition (often lucky or due to creative cropping) and that very special skill of being in the right place at the right time with a camera to capture that moment.

The show was one of the best photo shows I've seen. Not the same as seeing, the Art Institute does have the collection and additional info on their website: http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/exhibitions/Cartier-Bresson/overview
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Isaac

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #11 on: March 04, 2016, 11:40:07 am »

Actually, I think it does. It explains how somebody could afford to spend the money needed to actually learn how to become a photojournalist in that time.

It helps explain other aspects of Cartier-Bresson's biography; does it help explain Behind the Gare St. Lazare ?

The photographs that were reproduced in magazines were often quite small which hid the photographic short comings.

So the photos were good enough for the client (like Weegee's photos).

There were a lot of images, when printed bigger (like 11x14) that showed a lot of missed-focus, camera shake and blown highlights or plugged shadows.

For the art market, were the Cartier-Bresson photos shown in Julien Levy's gallery printed that size or smaller?
« Last Edit: March 04, 2016, 11:51:04 am by Isaac »
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Sophia

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #12 on: March 04, 2016, 05:36:45 pm »

[to Schewe]

Funny, that you would consider him 'not a great photographer' because of things like blown highlights or plugged shadows!  Or that you would consider his composition skills to be related to 'luck' or 'creative cropping', or that you think being in the right time at the right place is the very special skill he had!

I wish we could have a great discussion about this very topic, as it gets to the heart of what makes for great photography and great photographers.  And how different people view these things quite differently.  But alas it seems impossible to have 'discussions' rather than fights in these forums, so I'll just say that your post would be a great starter if we ever could have a discussion!
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Sophia

AreBee

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #13 on: March 04, 2016, 06:12:33 pm »

Sophia,

Quote
Funny, that you would consider him 'not a great photographer' because of things like blown highlights or plugged shadows!  Or that you would consider his composition skills to be related to 'luck' or 'creative cropping', or that you think being in the right time at the right place is the very special skill he had!

I wish we could have a great discussion about this very topic, as it gets to the heart of what makes for great photography and great photographers... But alas it seems impossible to have 'discussions' rather than fights in these forums, so I'll just say that your post would be a great starter if we ever could have a discussion!

Having been warned that they face being banned if their behaviour continues, the forum members in question are unlikely to tempt (their) fate by 'fighting'.

I for one would be interested to learn what you have to say on the discussion you wish you could have. For my part, I commit to you to not 'fight'.

What say you?
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Schewe

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #14 on: March 04, 2016, 06:29:14 pm »

Funny, that you would consider him 'not a great photographer' because of things like blown highlights or plugged shadows!  Or that you would consider his composition skills to be related to 'luck' or 'creative cropping', or that you think being in the right time at the right place is the very special skill he had!

I was referring to his technical skills not his ability to make great images. And yes, being in the right place at the right time with a camera is a tremendous skill...similar to Jay Maisel or any great street photographers.

And we CAN have a great discussion...we have had a good one already :~) Just leave out the nastiness and attacks.
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Rob C

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #15 on: March 04, 2016, 06:44:07 pm »

[to Schewe]

Funny, that you would consider him 'not a great photographer' because of things like blown highlights or plugged shadows!  Or that you would consider his composition skills to be related to 'luck' or 'creative cropping', or that you think being in the right time at the right place is the very special skill he had!

I wish we could have a great discussion about this very topic, as it gets to the heart of what makes for great photography and great photographers.  And how different people view these things quite differently.  But alas it seems impossible to have 'discussions' rather than fights in these forums, so I'll just say that your post would be a great starter if we ever could have a discussion!


The problem ain't lookin' for fights: the problem is that different strokes please different folks.

That being so, people get defensive of their own position and, consequently, a slur on a hero is a slur on oneself and, obviously, feathers ruffle and spurs come out.

Feel strongly about anything and it's pretty much inevitable. Feel lukewarm, and you just don't care enough to become emotionally involved and so there isn't going to be much point in saying anything at all. We can already find the latter thrill on tv.

Worse, photography is essentially a visual experience and words, unless with pictures beside them, can mean so many different things that, in such a context as a forum, they eventually mean nothing. The surprising thing, really, is that regardless of the pitfalls, so many of us keep trying.

Rob C

Isaac

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #16 on: March 05, 2016, 12:43:51 pm »

It's the problem of yet another article/thread reducing his body of work to the 'decisive moment' mantra.

The problems arise when an author's remarks drift-away from Cartier-Bresson's own repeated statements.

Although the author may find it helpful to look at subject and background, Cartier-Bresson seems to have looked at picture content and formal relationships.

Although others fix-upon the question of chance, Cartier-Bresson would "pick and force chance to come to [him]".
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GrahamBy

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #17 on: March 05, 2016, 02:59:46 pm »

My very scant reading of Cartier-Bresson himself suggests that he came up with the idea of the "moment décisif" not so much to glorify his talent, but as an answer to the question of whether photography was a creative discipline: ie to counter the argument that a photographer just captures what is in front of him without creativity. So HC-B opposed that the creative aspect was in selecting what to put in the frame, and when to press the button.

In other words, he was saying that this is characteristic of photography, and whether it is done more or less well is the measure of the photographer. I have the impression that it has since been turned around to suggest it was characteristic of HC-B.

Isaac?
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JeanMichel

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #18 on: March 07, 2016, 12:42:56 pm »

Anyone interested in finding out more about H C-B's thinking would do well in getting The mind's eye - writing on photography ad photographers published by Aperture.

In the first chapter, The camera as a sketchbook, there is a section about the decisive moment  with subheads on 'the picture story', 'the subject', 'composition', and so on. It is interesting to read what his thoughts about that process were in1952, which is when he wrote that article. It is also interesting to note what wrote about colour photography in 1952, and then in a short postscript in 1985.

The book contains section written in different decades by the same person on the same subject and gives us some insight on H C-B's take on the world. It is only USD $16 at Aperture.org.

Jean-Michel
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Isaac

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Re: Cartier-Bresson article
« Reply #19 on: March 07, 2016, 01:37:16 pm »

… came up with the idea …

The phrase has a history -- «Il n'y a rien en ce monde qui n'ait un moment décisif.»

I don't recall anything to suggest Cartier-Bresson either intended to "glorify his talent" or provide "an answer to the question of whether photography was a creative discipline".

He repeatedly provides the same rationale for his approach to his style of photography -- "First I would like to say that it is only a rule I established in myself, a certain discipline, but it is not a school, it’s not a… it's very personal."
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