Henri Cartier Bresson (1908-2004) is widely regarded as the father of modern photojournalism and street photography.
The first image below has been cited as being the greatest photograph of the 20th century – although perhaps silly to cite one photograph as better than any other the statement does show the high regard in which Cartier Bresson’s work is held.
Cartier Bresson mostly used a Leica with a 50mm lens, and almost never cropped his images. Often he had his images printed with the edges of the negative visible, as if to say ‘Look, no cropping!’
He was the master of the decisive moment, the master of having his camera in the right place at the right time, and clicking he shutter just at the prefect moment.
Here we see the sculptor Alberto Giacometti moving sculptures around his studio. Note how CB has caught him in a moment that likens Giacometti to his work.
The caption for this photo is ‘Cell in a model prison in the USA, 1975’. The picture speaks louder than words, and the idea that this is a model prison is called into question.
This was the first image I ever saw of Cartier-Bresson’s work. I could not get over the incredible arrangement of circles, those on the gate matching the reflection in the mans glasses, and at the same time an implied narrative about the relationship between the two figures. Is the out of focus figure sneaking away form the guard? Actually, since I saw this in the days of film there was another side to it – how many shots (i.e. how much money) would you need to get something like this? Actually this image seemed so perfect it put me off street photography for two deacades.
It’s this shot that makes it easier. I wished I figured our this one twenty years ago. Cartier-Bresson was a big game hunter before he was a photographer. You find your place, some interesting piece of architecture, and stake it out. Eventually a bicycle passes. You pull the trigger at the perfect moment.
This last example of his work has always left me breathless. The three figures, who could not be more Felliniesque, in perfect composition, their arms arraigned in a series of waves. But what is happening here? Can it be something as simple as a haircut? The black woman seems to be resisting, but not resisting strong enough if the hairdresser was going to use the razor to cut her throat.
“…You can’t correct it – if you have to correct it, it’s the next picture. But life is very fluid, and sometimes the picture has disappeared, and there is nothing you can do. You can’t tell the person, ‘Oh, please smile again, do that gesture again. Life is once, forever… It’s seldom you make a great picture – you have to milk the cow quite a lot and get plenty milk to make a little cheese.” (Henri Cartier-Bresson)