This is my personal response to the Henri Cartier Bresson (HCB) documentary ‘L’amour tout court’ (Cartier Bresson, 2015).
When asked about his famous photograph ‘Footfall in flooded square’ HCB describes simply pointing the lens through the planks in a fence and taking the picture without looking.
(Cartier Bresson, 1932)
When challenged as to whether the photograph was lucky he responds by saying ‘it’s always luck. Nothing else. Luck is all that counts’ (Cartier Bresson, 2015). That isn’t the whole story though.
What strikes me when listening to HCB is his, as he says, ‘love for life’ (Cartier Bresson, 2015) which surely means having energy to simply get out there, see things and press the shutter. It’s too easy for us to think about photography and not actually take photographs. ‘Love for life’ to me also encompasses having an interest in what is around us. His comment ‘what is important is what’s next’ fascinates me; he was always looking for the next creative opportunity. These essential traits are required to ensure that productive output is at the right level.
But then there needs readiness; both mental and technical. Mentally HCB says that to him ‘taking photographs requires extreme concentration’. He talks about the importance of looking and the need to be receptive. It’s interesting how he describes not communicating when he’s shooting portraits. Small talk is all that he attempts.
The words of Yves Bonnefoy shed light on HCB’s technical preparedness. Bonnefoy describes walking in a group past a covered square in Simiane. HCB took this photograph without being noticed or ‘dropping out of the conversation’ (Cartier Bresson, 2015).
(Cartier Bresson, 1969)
HCB’s Leica rangefinder camera must have been set up ready to shoot in terms of aperture and shutter configurations reflecting the light conditions. The focusing must also have been preconfigured at an anticipated zone or hyperfocal distance. Without this level of premeditation such a photograph could not have been captured in the manner that Bonnefoy describes.
So, is luck all that counts? No. HCB had energy, enthusiasm, an interest in his surroundings. Those attributes coupled with his receptive mindset and technical preparedness meant he got lucky more than most!
Cartier Bresson, H. (1932). Gare Saint Lazare. [image] Available at: http://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=MAGO31_10_VForm&ERID=24KL53ZMYN#/CMS3&VF=MAGO31_10_VForm&ERID=24KL53ZMYN&POPUPIID=2S5RYDI9CNRQ&POPUPPN=5 [Accessed 28 Mar. 2018].
Cartier Bresson, H. (1969). Simiane-la-Rotonde. [image] Available at: https://pro.magnumphotos.com/C.aspx?VP3=SearchResult&STID=2S5RYDYMZR5E [Accessed 29 Mar. 2018].
Cartier Bresson, H. (2015). H. Cartier-Bresson: l’amour tout court. Available at: https://vimeo.com/106009378 [Accessed 26 Mar. 2018].