Winogrand vs. Cartier-Bresson
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.
Not really sure if you have a question here.
I like Winogrand better.
Is that an answer?
You may like the book "Bystander"
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?
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.
I think Jorge, gave you "the" answer with his wise question/observation, think about it!
Originally Posted by Jorge
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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.
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.
van Huyck Photo
"Progress is only a direction, and it's often the wrong direction"
I enjoy the work of HCB. I do not care for GW's work.
Claire (Ms Anne Thrope is in the darkroom)
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.
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.