Winogrand vs. Cartier-Bresson

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by Mike Lopez, Oct 1, 2005.

  1. Mike Lopez

    Mike Lopez Member

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    I have recently become extremely interested in making "decisive moment" photographs in large format. One major catalyst for this came through studies of Michael A. Smith's photographs. Those of you who own "A Visual Journey" probably know of many examples in this book.

    As an uninitiated student of this concept, I would like to hear your thoughts and opinions on the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Garry Winogrand. I don't own books by either of them, but I do have access to several books by each in my library. It is my understanding that both used Leicas, typically on the street. I also know of Winogrand's huge volume of unprinted and undeveloped work upon his death. What sorts of philosophical differences between the two are to be noted? Do you have a preference, and why? I have read Cartier-Bresson's introduction to The Decisive Moment, and it seems counter to Winogrand's famous statement of photographing things "to see how they look." Does this summarize everything?

    I would like to hear your thoughts. Thank you.

    Mike
     
  2. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Not really sure if you have a question here.

    I like Winogrand better.

    Is that an answer?





    You may like the book "Bystander"
     
  3. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    I am not sure what you are asking. There is no virtue in using a LF camera as if it was a 35 mm camera and then think the shots are "good" simply because they were difficult to make, they rarely are.

    Smith tells me that I "dont get it" and perhaps he is right, I dont get this idea that a boring picture is good simply because an attempt to use a LF camera as if it was a 35 mm was made.

    If you plan to photograph people, you better be using an crown or speed graphic and be very, very good at identifying the decisive moment, then again walking around with one of these cameras now a days will make you the center of attention and will certainly will not give you candid moments, you might as well forget trying to use an 8x10.

    Technically you will need to shoot in sunny days around noon, it is the only time I have found I am able to use something like TMY at high speeds and small apertures, anything less you will be in the 1/15 to one sec esposures, not the best for the "decisive moment."

    I dont want to discourage and by all means give it a shot, but ask yourself, why did HCB and Winogrand used leicas at a period in photography where LF was very popular?
     
  4. mikewhi

    mikewhi Member

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    I'm not expert in either mans' work, but I have seen a fair amount in print and in exhibition. I personally believe the ideal of the decisive moment more closely describes the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. I never got the impression that Winogrand's work aimed for this - I always thought of him as a more modern Robert Frank or someone like that.

    As for capturing the decisive moment with LF, well good luck! The closest I ever came was with a smaller camera. I setup in a location very carefully chosen with a very well lit huge doorway into a pavillion. I stood in a shadow area so that people passing in front of the camera were in shadow and thus came out very dark. The people in the background were well-lit and I set my exposure for them and let the people in shadow fall like on Zone 2 or so - which is just what I wanted. I tripped the shutter as people passed in front of the camera and other people came in the main doorway trying to get an interesting coreography between the shadowy people and the well-lit subjects entering the pavillion. After about 2 rolls of film, I got one very nice image where the shadowy image was dark and distorted by the fast motion and the well-lit subjects were interesting.

    While I did do this with a small camera, it could have been done with a LF camera. There was usually some time between exposures and shooting HP5 would have worked ok. I was back far enough that a lot of people didn't even notice me. Some did and some made a point of passing in front of the camera several times to get in the shot.
    But, I did shoot 72+ exposures before I got something I really liked. Even being more selective, you'd go thru a lot of expensive LF film to get that very elusive 'decisive moment'.

    I can only think that setting up like I did is the way to go - sort of like a hunter setting up in a blind or in a tree and waiting for the prey as opposed to taking to the ground and stalking the prey. I don't think stalking lends itself to this format. There are handheld 4x5's out there that may work (Littman and other polaroid mods and the Gowland - but it is huge).

    BTW, I own Visual Journey and Michael's 2-volumne landscape tome. I don't think I can recall any example of a 'decisive moment' in his entire body of work and I'm not aware that he shoots for that. Can you point out a few page references in Visual Journey that show what you mean? I agree with Jorge on this and I have another local friend who feels the same way. You're the first that I've ever heard mention MAS work with HCB in the same breath and I'd like it if you can point out some examples and explanation.

    HTH.

    Thanks!

    -Mike
     
  5. André E.C.

    André E.C. Member

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    I think Jorge, gave you "the" answer with his wise question/observation, think about it!

    Good luck!

    André
     
  6. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    There are decisive moments even in landscape and architectural photography, so I wouldn't discount LF in the street, if that's what appeals to you. It will entail a different working style than that of H C-B, wandering the streets, constantly looking around, adjusting exposure and focus at every moment, raising the camera, snapping the shutter, and moving on, but actually there is no obvious reason that you couldn't do this with a Linhof or a Graphic--you'll just be more conspicuous.

    Look at the work of Nicholas Nixon, who manages to retain a very spontaneous feeling with an 8x10" camera. Also Bruce Davidson, though his LF street work is generally more static in composition. Of course Weegee would be another example.
     
  7. doughowk

    doughowk Subscriber

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    Josef Sudek did some very good "street photography" with LF & only one arm; but his images were take from a roof. The decisive moment can be when person/people enter your composed scene.
     
  8. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    I enjoy the work of HCB. I do not care for GW's work.
     
  9. david b

    david b Member

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    The "decisive moment" was about being in the right place at the right time.

    HCB's work was a little less about grab shots, I think. He, supposedly, stood in the same spot for hours until something happened. That so-called decisive moment.

    GW and HCB work was also about being "invisible" as well as quick. A LF camera is going to draw a lot of attention, so unless you have a camoflage darkcloth, you are going to really stand out.

    So I think it might be possible with a LF camera and all of its needed accessories, I think it would be very difficult.
     
  10. Mike Lopez

    Mike Lopez Member

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    Jorge, if I'm not mistaken, Michael sent you a gratis copy of AVJ a couple years back. Maybe you paid for it. It doesn't matter. If you have it, please also see Mike's post, and join me here.

    Mike, please see plate 27 in AVJ. Note how the motor boat on the left, the two motor boats which are more "centralized" in the frame, and the wind surfer are all slightly blurred, but all in a sort of harmony with each other. That is what I mean by the "decisive moment" in this context. And I suspect there is a lot more going on here than you've noticed before (at least there was for me). Note the person with the bent arm behind the tree in the upper right corner of the frame. Now note the bent arm on the central left border, and the bent leg in the lower central portion of the frame. Now notice the sequence of bridge arches in the upper portion of the frame. Do you see how they all work together, even thought they are quite variant spatially? This picture simply is NOT what it is if any of these people move the slightest bit. Decisive moment.

    Now see plate 34. The decisiveness here is blatantly obvious. Three moving vehicles and some re-paving and painting of the street to "transport" your eye all over the picture.

    See catalog #91. This time Smith utilizes moving kayaks and a moving person in the lower right corner of the picture, captured at a moment which decisively makes the picture what it is.

    Catalog numbers 89 and 90 use a mix of stationary and moving people captured perfectly positioned in space to comprise the picture whole.

    I should have clarified my original post. By "decisive moment" I didn't mean a shutter speed fast enough to capture a man jumping across a pond in the manner of HCB. There is much, much more to a decisive moment photograph than to render everything "frozen" in space. It's unfortunate that AVJ is not much bigger than it is, because Smith has hundreds more such pictures of people moving along streets, through intersections, etc., where their movement as recorded on film MAKES the picture.

    Jorge, I'm not going to partake in any arguments about whether you think Smith says you don't get it because you don't prescribe to the "idea that a boring picture is good simply because an attempt to use a LF camera as if it was a 35 mm was made." That's not the idea at all. Not one iota. I don't find these pictures boring one bit. There is a world of activity within them, if you just look.
     
  11. Mike Lopez

    Mike Lopez Member

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    I think that's part of it, Doug. People entering the frame of the photograph often make the image what it is, and they need not be perfectly sharp in the finished print. I like implied motion, much of the time.
     
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  12. Jorge

    Jorge Inactive

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    Mike, I really have no desire to make this thread an analysis of Smith's work. He and I have discussed this till the cows come home, and suffice it to say in general Michael and I have very different ideas of what constitutes a good photograph.

    If your goal is to make photographs similar to what he does, then study his work and try to come up with similar situations. I wish you the best of luck.
     
  13. Mike Lopez

    Mike Lopez Member

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    That's fine, too. Mike asked for examples from A Visual Journey. I gave some.
     
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  15. mikewhi

    mikewhi Member

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    Hi gang. I just got in from a 13 hour all night drive from Carson City. I am too tired to locate my copy of the book and look thru the examples. I will do so as soon as I can and post some replies. Thanks for the examples, Mike.

    -Mike
     
  16. Roger Krueger

    Roger Krueger Member

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    Cartier-Bresson often put a lot of thought into shots, and seeing a potential scene, was willing to endure an extended wait to have it set up right. He made some effort to be inconspicuous.

    The find-it-then-wait-for-it methodology certainly seems LF-friendly.

    Winogrand was a lot more spontaneous, and he mostly didn't care whether you saw or liked him. His method involved shooting an immense amount of film and hoping for a few keepers.

    Unless you're shooting an aerial 5" roll back I think Winogrand's methods are inapplicable to LF, although you'll need his chutzpah since you're not going to be very stealthy with LF.

    Personal preference? I like the best of Winogrand a lot better than I like the best of Cartier-Bresson, but there are also wide swaths of Winogrand--"Public Relations" for instance--that do absolutely nothing for me, a level to which none of Cartier-Bresson's work sinks.
     
  17. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    Winogrand was one of the better photographers of the late 20th century.

    HCB created the world Winogrand inhabited.

    HCB roamed the earth for decades, not a street, not a neighborhood. He explored cultures, times, and places. He made pictures that were, and are, meaningful to people from all over our planet. Winogrand made pictures which are interesting to a few people.

    It is seldom a good idea to compare people, let alone artists. In this case, it shows why. Winogrand was a product of his times, HCB shaped those times.

    Many of us today imagine that what a photographer does is to wander around on their day off with a bag of film and a couple cameras over a shoulder and wonder if this will be the day they see something interesting.

    In this context, it is understandable that HCB is not fully appreciated. His existence was about seeing life clearly enough to record it clearly, in 1/60th of a second snaps. Those who suggest he just hung around waiting for something to happen need to read accounts from the '50s of people trying to keep up with him.

    The proper comparison is Picasso or HCB. And the answer is they can't be separated enough to be compared. They simply ARE the times in which they lived.
    .
     
  18. mikewhi

    mikewhi Member

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    Hi:

    How dow you think Michal Smith's landscapes fit into the world HCB created? Do you think the term 'Decisive Moment' applies to his LF landscape work?

    Thanks.

    -Mike
     
  19. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    The October 2005 Black & White Photography (british) magazine has an interveiw with HCB from the mid-70's. A nice read, and he talks about his shooting style and general attitude toward photography and its place in art and culture among other things. He requested that parts of this interview be excluded at its first publication, but this version is not edited for content. I found his comments on bourgeois socialism and 'concerned photography' to be interesting, and in my opinion, apt. This issue of B&W had a very high percentage of articles that interested me.

    Lee
     
  20. juan

    juan Subscriber

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    I was stunned when I learned to see well enough to recognize that a lot of Edward Weston's photographs were taken at the decisive moment, too.
    juan
     
  21. jmdavis

    jmdavis Member

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    Mike L.,

    I think that you are on the right track. The key is waiting for "your shot," your "decisive moment." This could be setting up a rooftop shot (which you are very good at, by the way) and waiting for the right moment showing the interactions of pedestrians and traffic. It could be something at the beach or a horse race, or anything else. The street photography of the 40's and the work of Nicholas Nixon in 8x10 definitely show that the "decisive moment" is not just a concept for 35mm or MF.

    It was good to meet you at the workshop. I'm still thinking about the experience daily.

    Mike Davis
     
  22. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    Anyone who has taken care with a landscape knows that there are most certainly decisive moments in that discipline. The light, the wind, the clouds all have to be right for real success. Moonrise Over Hernandez was a decisive moment, but AA couldn't find his meter and got a difficult negative as a result. Even if he'd come back the next night, the same light on the foreground would have been at a time when the moon was 13 degrees or so further east in the sky. I've waited for as much as an hour for a flower to be in the right light or to be still long enough to capture it on Kodachrome 25, and I've come back to many a subject at a later date or time to get it right.

    Still lives like Weston's are done in the right light, which can be manipulated in a studio-like environment to extend the duration of the moment. The duration of the moment may be longer relative to HCB's work, but Pepper 31 wasn't ready a few weeks earlier, and was not so pretty 36 hours later. (Which one of the boys ate it?)

    Taken in context, HCB's contention (from Cardinal de Retz) that "there is nothing in the world that doesn't have a decisive moment" could reasonably include the photographer being in the right creative frame of mind, seeing well, and in an aware and receptive mood.

    I get and appreciate the jokes about the relative lengths of the decisive moment, but I don't think we should short-change a broader concept by defining it too narrowly.

    Where Winogrand and HCB both excelled was in seeing a shot coming and responding quickly "on the fly". But it doesn't mean that the concept is totally inapplicable to the rest of photography.

    I guess I've inadvertently answered mikewhi's question in a way that I find satisfactory.

    Lee

    P.S. Sky & Telescope magazine has occasional articles on the timing of particular photographs and paintings. With calculations of planetary and lunar motions or other astronomical events, they have occasionally corrected mistaken lore and inaccurate memory, and pinpointed the time and date of a photography to within a minute or so.
     
  23. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    The things that make photography PHOTOGRAPHY and not sculpture, painting or needlepoint are few.

    Time is the essential quality of photography, which allies it more closely to Music than painting.

    Which possibly explains why so many great photographers came from Music... and so many bad ones from painting. :surprised:

    .
     
  24. Mike Lopez

    Mike Lopez Member

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    Hey there, Mike. It was good to meet you, too. It's a shame I had to leave early. And I found out the hard way that there are very few (if any) gas stations near the Philly airport. I just barely made it to my gate as the flight was boarding, after blowing about 30 minutes looking for a place to fill up the rental car.

    But it was a great time. Did you come away with any books? Or prints? Thanks for your input to my question here. It sounds like you and I are thinking along the same lines here.

    Mike Lopez
     
  25. jmdavis

    jmdavis Member

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    Hey Mike,

    No prints (I maintained self-control). But I did come away with "High Plains Farm" and a subscription to the Brett Weston Portfoliios. I regret not getting "A Visual Journey," but I plan to correct that soon.
     
  26. haris

    haris Guest

    Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't "decisive moment" term which describe that photographer press shutter on his/hers camera at moment when all parts which will make that photograph (light, composition, etc.) are, by photographers opinion, there and such as they should be. So, what is difference if at that moment pressed shutter is on Graflex, Leica, Canon, Mamiya... camera. I mean, pressing shutter at 10fps camera and hoping that atleast one of photographs will be "that" photograph is not "decisive moment" photography. As I understand "decisive moment" photography is to press shutter only once but at right time, that is at decisive moment (moment of decision when to press shutter). And shutter can be pressed once at right time on autoeverything 10fps 35mm SLR same as on MF or all manual slow shooting LF format camera.

    Regards