Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit in Paris

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by Trask, Jun 4, 2014.

  1. Trask

    Trask Subscriber

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    Last Sunday I was able to attend the large exhibition re: Henri Cartier-Bresson that’s running at the Pompidou Center in Paris through June 9. (It will be in Madrid from June 28 to Sept 8; in Rome from Sept 25 to Jan 6; in Mexico (City?) from Jan 22 to April 19.)

    This is not the first exhibition I’ve seen of his work, but the organizers tried to make this one a bit different by showing prints that were made around the same time the photographs were taken, rather than “modern” prints made in the 80s and 90s. Some of the photographs did have a different appearance and tonality than the modern prints I’ve seen elsewhere, but I’d be hard-pressed to say they were better – though they may be closer to HCB’s vision of the final image at the time he made the photograph. The exhibit includes movies shorts of HCB’s film-making days with Jean Renoir, but I found these of little interest – OK, HCB played an English butler for 15 seconds in one movie, but that didn’t inform me much about how his film work affected his still photography. The exhibit wants to show that HCB developed in his still photography over the decades, that there were multiple HCBs as he moved from era to era. Hence the inclusion of some early photographs he took as a young boy, and some of his drawings late in life – I wish I could say the latter were interesting or demonstrated skill in drawing, but they did not IMHO.

    I did, however, enjoy learning about how HCB’s interest in surrealist art influenced his photography. It seems the surrealists believed that images could show both stillness and movement, and that the contrast of the two in a frame was important (pardon me if I’ve not grasped this properly, but I know little of surrealist art theory). They liked the notion of having a unique background against which action occurred – static vs dynamic. That causes me to wonder if some of HCB’s photographs of that era (attached) in which we see an unusual background with action in front (or, in the case of the hole in the wall, behind) were made by HCB finding the background and then waiting to see who walked into the frame and what they did. Some movie shorts from the 50s or 60s show him taking pictures in New York, almost literally dancing through the streets and around crowds to grab that decisive moment – but it strikes that in some earlier photos from the 30s perhaps he simply stood still and waited for the action to come to him. For example, what are the odds that he could get his camera to his eye, focus and trip the shutter before that bicyclist zipped out of the frame – perhaps he found the steps, thought them a perfect frame, and waited to see what happened.

    While I’ve never subscribed to the idea that if I had X or Y camera I could shoot like HCB, Gene Smith or Bob Capa, I will confess to being interested in learning what tools THEY found useful. In some of the movies shorts in NYC it’s clear that he’s using a collapsible lens on an M body, as you can see him double-stroke a few times and the shape of the collapsible lens is obvious. In other shots he has a rigid lens mounted, and in the book store of the exhibit, on the cover of a magazine dedicated to HCB, we see a 1967 photograph of him pointing a black IIIg with a LTM Summicron directly at the person taking his picture. So it seems he used whatever he felt like using at the time.

    I’d recommend the exhibit if it comes to where you are. You could, as I did, enjoy seeing some early prints of his very well-known photographs up close, and the breadth of the exhibit might add to your understanding and enjoyment of his work.
    HCB bicyclist.jpg HCB kids hole in wall.jpg Cartier bresson Madrid wall.jpg
     
  2. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    I often look at pictures some of taken by the greats and wonder if I had shot them if anyone would wanted to see them.
     
  3. summicron1

    summicron1 Subscriber

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    HCB often talked about standing and waiting...I do it, often with fun results but you gotta be patient.

    Whether millions will one day admire my work is beyond my control. I doubt, while waiting for that cyclist to come by (there were no doubt several cyclists/walkers to choose from) HCB thought "Someday this shot will be a poster and admired world-wide." More likely he just thought "Wow, that's a great shot."
     
  4. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

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    I believe HCB once said "If you find something interesting and wait long enough, it will become more interesting". However, his MO was a lot more varied than that. Thanks for the info Trask and if I was in Paris, would pay it a visit.
     
  5. Trask

    Trask Subscriber

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    I forgot to add to my original post one aspect of the exhibition -- or rather, of the people at the exhibition -- that left me bemused. Person after person would approach a famous print, look at it for a moment, and then pull out their smart phone, iPad or digital SLR with an enormous lens (and it was a Canon, with the lens hood still mounted backward on the lens), and take several pictures of the decades-old print. Somehow the idea of people looking at images taken 80 years before with a screw-mount Leica and then snapping then with an iPad just seemed really weird to me. I can only hope that if they ever go back to look at their "captures" they'll start to think about how HCB managed to do what he did, and get interested in the finer aspects of true non-autofocus non-programmed exposure photography.