Name: Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1908-2004
Famous Work: Bresson’s intial interest was not that of photography but of painting, however, in 1931, he was inspired by a image taken by Martin Munkacsi (see here) which caused him to take up photography instead – “The only thing which completely was an amazement to me and brought me to photography was the work of Munkacsi. When I saw the photograph of Munkacsi of the black kids running in a wave I couldn’t believe such a thing could be caught with the camera. I said damn it, I took my camera and went out into the street.” Bresson’s primary interest in painting had a clear influence over his photography; he preferred to compose his photographs through the viewfinder, not the dark room – never cropping any of his images. He also saw photography as a kind of “instant drawing”, a way of capturing a moment in time – “For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. It is by economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression.” This approach to photography by Bresson led to him to write his book and most notable work – “Images à la sauvette” or “The Decisive Moment” published in 1952. The book was a collection of 126 of his photographs he had taken across the world, mainly consisting of street photography. The decisive moment as defined by Bresson is “the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression.”
An early adopter of the 35mm format, Bresson used a Leica camera to capture his images. Being small, lightweight and easily concealed, the Leica helped Bresson in retaining an anonymity in crowds or intimate moments – something he enhanced by covering his Leica in black paint and tape. The anonymity of his camera was a factor that definitely helped Bresson when capturing the realities and “decisive moments” around him – “I had just discovered the Leica. It became the extension of my eye, and I have never been separated from it since I found it. I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to “trap” life – to preserve life in the act of living. 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“.
Bresson is considered to be the father of photojournalism and in 1947 he helped to found the cooperative photographic agency, Magnum, along with other notable photojournalists of the time such as Robert Capa and David “Chim” Seymour.
“In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little, human detail can become a Leitmotiv. ”
“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy”
“Reality offers us such wealth that we must cut some of it out on the spot, simplify. The question is, do we always cut out what we should? While we’re working, we must be conscious of what we’re doing. Sometimes we have the feeling that we’ve taken a great photo, and yet we continue to unfold. We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole”.
“The photograph itself doesn’t interest me. I want only to capture a minute part of reality.”
“Photography is nothing–it’s life that interests me.”
“In a portrait, I’m looking for the silence in somebody.”