Henri Cartier-Bresson has created more memorable images than any other photographer working during
that era, photographs that show a great empathy and respect for the people in them. But how did
he manage to get so many outstanding shots, again and again? What can we learn from the way he worked
that might apply to our own way of working?
If you want to shoot like Henri Cartier Bresson get the basics right first. Always shoot in
black and white. Stick to a prime focus lens. Always use a fast ISO. Don't use flash but rely on
available light. And be as unobtrusive as possible. Using a smaller camera is good as this
helps to be less obtrusive. Oh and a good dose of imagination helps too!
Cartier-Bresson simplified his methodology in order to concentrate completely on his
subject. Simplifying things technically to the point of being able to make shots without
fussing over the controls is a great way of working as it lets you be more spontaneous,
more intuitive, and allows for rapid response to the situation presented. It doesn't have to be the exact
set of rules that Cartier-Bresson adopted but if you develop your own way of working
it will help you enormously and also help you understand just what your own creative style
Cartier Bresson said: "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". His philosophy is backed
up by the way he worked - the method and the result are inextricably bound. But the
photography for him was more than an assemblage of lines and shapes which neatly
lined up at 'the decisive moment'; an image was something that had intrinsic meaning,
based on a deep, genuine interest in the world.
"In order to "give a meaning" to the world, one has to feel involved in what one frames
through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, discipline of mind, sensitivity,
and a sense of geometry. It is by economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression."
I think the last sentence is the most telling one and very important for photographers
who are developing their craft. For Henri Cartier Bresson, a simplified methodology is a means to an end, that
end being a simple, direct vision capable of expressing the heart of the matter. Speed is
of the essence in this process:
"To take a photograph means to recognize - simultaneously and within a fraction of a second
- both the fact itself and the rigorous organisation of visually perceived forms that give it
meaning. It is putting one's head, one's eye, and one's heart on the same axis."
Cartier-Bresson was not only a photographer, he also made several documentary films
between 1930s and 1970s.
Henri Cartier-Bresson (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)
is a two-disc DVD set which includes a series of documentaries about him plus five major works
directed by Cartier-Bresson himself. There is a 24-page illustrated collectible book containing
criticism of his work and reproductions of many of his famous photographs. It's a great
way to delve more deeply into the wisdom and genius of the man himself.
"To take a photograph is to hold one's breath when all faculties converge in the face of
fleeing reality. It is at that moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical
and intellectual joy."