Henri Cartier-Bresson documentary ‘L’amour de court’
Henri Cartier-Bresson comes across as a darling of a man, his simple answers and unassuming way makes for interesting viewing. Early on in part one he says:
‘What matters is to look, but people don’t look, most of them don’t look, they press the button’ (Cartier-Bresson; Part One; 1:21)
I believe he alludes to the way people snap a picture but do not really look or see, they do not observe the world around them. This is even more relevant in the digital world, when memory cards replace film and people can snap away without thought or decision. It appears he is always looking at what is around him even when in conversation with a friend; he takes images whilst on the move. His friend says of Henri in the documentary ‘While others are distracted and unobservant, Henri is on the lookout ready to react’
‘To learn to look is to go to the Louvre’ (Cartier-Bresson)
There is no lessons in seeing or looking, I believe Henri, who appears naturally inquisitive, suggests that to learn to look is to take it upon yourself to investigate. To look at the work of others and to open your eyes to it.
In part two Henri Cartier-Bresson looks at his now famous and iconic decisive image of the leaping man in Derriere la Gare Saint-Lazare. ‘You couldn’t see the man leaping?’ Cartier-Bresson is asked, ‘No’ Cartier-Bresson replies.
‘Its always luck’, ‘It’s luck that matters’ (Cartier-Bresson; Part two; 1:00)
It was apparently taken in between two planks and Cartier-Bresson himself did not see the image through the viewfinder. He was obviously inquisitive by nature, taking an image based on something he could not see clearly? This is apparently one of only two images of Cartier-Bressons that were ever cropped in post production. In fact he mentions later in the documentary that he didn’t see his photographs as he would post his rolls of film to Paris or Bombay where they would then be developed. What mattered to him seems to be simply documenting what he saw.
He puts a great deal of success for a photograph in its geometry; he intuitively knows the ratios and proportions to make an image work. He cites:
‘1.618…3.1416…The golden number’ (Cartier-Bresson; Part two; 2:00)
This is the Fibonacci sequence or otherwise known as the golden ratio. He is evidently self-critical of his images, He is even seen to ask in part five of the documentary to either write a comment on or have removed images that he is not happy with for the National Library despite the obvious praise from others. The way he himself sees the photograph appears more important than the accolades bestowed on it, he appears to be a perfectionist.
He displays a warm sense of wit throughout the documentary and it is apparent from the comments that he holds many other ‘artists’ in high regard. He claims to have stopped taking photographs despite still seeing the opportunities to take them but is now focused on drawing and perhaps seeing through his pencil rather than his lens.
Has this documentary changed my view of the decisive moment? Not really, I still think the decisive image is one where the action in the image, composition and photographer collide. However I think there is more luck involved, perhaps it is more about photographing what you see and understanding the deeper meaning of what you are seeing not simply snapping what is in front of you. Then luck might have it that you caught the moment and the composition falls into place, but what matters most is to see!