Monday, 7 September 2009

Notes from the master

Seeing as (a) I've had more time and opportunities to get to know my new toy and (b) more people (i think) are looking at my shots, I thought I'd share a few notes from and about the master - Henri Cartier-Bresson. One of the reasons I was so long in making the transition to digital was I sensed that too much of the conversation was about the technology and the lenses - not enough about the actual image or the process / approach the person followed to arrive at the image. I admit this is a tough example to follow and I doubt that in our hyper-sensitive, media-saturated world it's damn near-impossible to replicate his approach.

This content is taken from Photography - Venice 1979, a book I bought second-hand somewhere:

"Fabricated" or contrived photography does not concern me...There are those who take photographs arranged beforehand and those who go out out in search of the image and seize it. The camera for me is a sketch book, the instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the the master of the instant which visually questions and decides at the same time. To "signify" the world, one must feel involved in what one cuts out through the view finder. This attitude demands concentration, a discipline of the mind, sensitivity and a feeling for geometry...To photograph is to hold one's breath when all one's faculties are joined in the face of a fleeing reality; it is then that the capture of the image is a great physical and intellectual joy. To photograph is, in a single instant, in a single fraction of a second, to recognize a fact and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms which convey and signify that fact. It is to bring one's head, one's eye and one's heart into the same line of aim...[P]hotography is a manner of crying out, of freeing oneself, and not of proving or asserting one's own originality. It is a way of life."

There's also a pretty good interview with him and Charlie Rose that you can watch on YouTube. Given that he even hated to be photographed, this is worth a watch.

Now, I do know that this is only one approach to shooting, and there are amazing photographers doing amazing work with vastly different and/or diametrically opposed ways of working. But I still think that his work has had the biggest impact on my photographic forays and the strongest driving factor in leading me to see things the way I do. In other words, it's why I'll suddenly stop on the street and shoot mailboxes, bicycle seats, stop lights, and so on. When I want to challenge myself with my shots, it's his examples and approach that I always return to.

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