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Archive 2013 · Investigating an Henri Cartier-Bresson Image
  
 
George61d
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p.1 #1 · Investigating an Henri Cartier-Bresson Image


I am a long time fan of HCB and his portraits. It is not always obvious what an individual image works. I recently acquired a book of his portraits and I was taken aback by the first image in this curated set. It just did not seem to be a good image to me. So I had to find out more. I thought I would share my findings to see what other think. I appreciate that this is not the normal type of post in this sub-forum, but I would be interested in your comments.

http://wideanglecafe.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/henri-cartier-bresson-investigating-a-portrait/



Feb 09, 2013 at 10:13 PM
afkenner
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p.1 #2 · Investigating an Henri Cartier-Bresson Image


Wonderful analysis of this portrait. Thank you for taking the time to create and post this.


Feb 09, 2013 at 11:26 PM
friscoron
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p.1 #3 · Investigating an Henri Cartier-Bresson Image



At first, I was not going to respond to this. I understand that the early artists were groundbreakers. But with the MTV era, and then even more so in the digital era, things have changed... a lot. We always have to respect our elders, appreciate our history, but the art of photography has evolved, just as the game of football or baseball or basketball has evolved.

If you lined up the best football team of the 1920s against the best football team of 2012-13, the current team would crush the 1920s team. There are probably current high school teams that could beat the best pro team of the 1920s. Same goes with photography, dare I say.

Your description of HCB and this photography of Rouault strikes me as focusing on the technical aspects of the photograph. My first thought is that if someone posted that to FM People, I would consider it a pedestrian candid shot. Nice lighting, a little soft on focus, distracting lampshade in background, and why all the dead space up top... doesn't work for me. If you want to get the cross in the shot, there's ways to do it without creating a bunch of dead space to go with it. The man's expression seems to be between things, as if he's about to say something.

In today's photography, the technical aspects are important. We include artistic elements that didn't really exist back then. I appreciate that we need to tip our hat to HCB and others, and it's important to know where we came from. But if every picture was shot using that Devine Proportion grid... well, that would just be boring.



Feb 09, 2013 at 11:59 PM
charlesk
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p.1 #4 · Investigating an Henri Cartier-Bresson Image


If someone posted that portrait here, it would be widely panned as amateurish work; people would complain about the "cut off hand", and the "cross growing out of his head", and the "dead expression" and so forth.

Famous artists are like famous vintages -- people compose homages to them based more on the label than the contents.



Feb 10, 2013 at 04:10 AM
George61d
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p.1 #5 · Investigating an Henri Cartier-Bresson Image


Interesting perspectives. As I said in the original post, I wondered why this was in a curated set of images. It just is not that strong an image to me. Indeed modern photography is quite different to that of the 1940s, it will be different again in 10 years time. But it never hurts to look and learn from the whole gamut of work that is out there.

@friscoron - I would be interested to understand more about your assertion "we include artistic elements that did not really exist back then". Can you elaborate ?



Feb 10, 2013 at 08:09 AM
canerino
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p.1 #6 · Investigating an Henri Cartier-Bresson Image


friscoron wrote:
At first, I was not going to respond to this. I understand that the early artists were groundbreakers. But with the MTV era, and then even more so in the digital era, things have changed... a lot. We always have to respect our elders, appreciate our history, but the art of photography has evolved, just as the game of football or baseball or basketball has evolved.

If you lined up the best football team of the 1920s against the best football team of 2012-13, the current team would crush the 1920s team. There are probably current high school teams that
...Show more

Ron,

I respectfully disagree with just about everything you wrote. First, your analogy between past artists and past sports teams is flawed and unfair. You cannot relate a competition to an art. Surely, we can measure whether the teams of yore could defeat today's teams via statistics, but you cannot ever measure subjectivity in art.

Second, Cartier-Bresson's more popular works are true masterpieces. I'd literally retire if I were ever able to pull of a shot in the moment as masterful as HCB. I'll go further, if HCB were around today and covered a wedding...well, it would be spectacular. Keep in mind that HCB wandered the ever changing streets when he was making his photographs. His timing and sense of composition are truly amazing. You shoot weddings, you know. Could you imagine pulling off some of the images he made in that ever changing environment?

Third, I think the large majority of today's photography is 'empty' and without thought. I think images people like these days are much less cerebral. You mention that we use 'artistic elements that didnt exist back then'. I think many of the better documentary images back then absolutely blow todays vapid images out of the water. I also think this is a microcosm of today's 'MTV society' where we need to smack people in the face and tell them "THIS IS A GOOD IMAGE" with ubersimple photographs that are just 'pretty'.

Obviously, this is all subjective, but I couldnt feel more differently about 'the greats' than you

Chuck



Feb 15, 2013 at 01:38 AM
canerino
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p.1 #7 · Investigating an Henri Cartier-Bresson Image


I think its interesting that the people in this thread basically cast off the 'old photographers' as not that good.

Here are some images from some photographers I admire:

Weegee








Erwitt











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Winogrand





















Maier:































































Cartier-Bresson







































Leibovitz



























Newman







































Feb 15, 2013 at 01:45 AM
 



benee
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p.1 #8 · Investigating an Henri Cartier-Bresson Image


Chuck, I agree with you that studying the "greats" is important and that much of what people laud today as good photography is just eye candy. I wonder though how you feel about the op's first image posted. To me, it does seem rather pedestrian.

Certainly, HCBs work shows an incredible eye and timing, but is the image in question really something special as a stand-alone image?



Feb 15, 2013 at 02:04 AM
poshyp
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p.1 #9 · Investigating an Henri Cartier-Bresson Image


George,
HCB just captured a 'personality' of the day to be vulnerable and not so self-assured.
The rest is totally accidental; the sitter face and his left hand say it all.
"U want me to sit there"
YMMV



Feb 15, 2013 at 02:22 AM
Peter Figen
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p.1 #10 · Investigating an Henri Cartier-Bresson Image


There's a world of emotion in that photograph, and while it may not be "perfect" in terms of how we feel about composition today, most of the images I see posted here could use a slice of the story that is being told here. You look at it and FEEL something, and perhaps the slightly off composition is designed that way on purpose.


Feb 15, 2013 at 09:48 AM
canerino
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p.1 #11 · Investigating an Henri Cartier-Bresson Image


benee wrote:
I wonder though how you feel about the op's first image posted. To me, it does seem rather pedestrian.

Certainly, HCBs work shows an incredible eye and timing, but is the image in question really something special as a stand-alone image?


Admittedly, the original image posted here is not my favorite from HCB. One thing to keep in mind is that HCB didnt take photos to be judged on an internet forum. Also, I am not sure if this image is one that he ever included in a professional portfolio? So think about it this way...you die...someone comes across your harddrive and sees some very very fine images. They begin to curate your photographs. They start to dig deeper and come across a theme 'portraits'. I know personally, there are HUNDREDS (maybe even thousands) of portraits that I have taken that are just for me. They are people I know/dont know. I pressed the shutter for a reason...for me. But they may not have any real photographic/artistic value to anyone else. I suspect that the photograph that the OP analyzed (very well) falls into this category.

Perhaps he had lunch with the old artist and took a snap just as the old timer headed for the door? So I think its a bit unfair for us to judge this piece as one that HCB is passing off as being 'good'. With that said, the OP did a GREAT job analyzing.



Feb 15, 2013 at 02:17 PM
friscoron
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p.1 #12 · Investigating an Henri Cartier-Bresson Image


canerino wrote:
Ron,

I respectfully disagree with just about everything you wrote. First, your analogy between past artists and past sports teams is flawed and unfair. You cannot relate a competition to an art. Surely, we can measure whether the teams of yore could defeat today's teams via statistics, but you cannot ever measure subjectivity in art.
Second, Cartier-Bresson's more popular works are true masterpieces. I'd literally retire if I were ever able to pull of a shot in the moment as masterful as HCB. I'll go further, if HCB were around today and covered a wedding...well, it would be spectacular. Keep
...Show more
Not sure exactly what you're talking about, Chuck. My analogy was not made between the artists of today as compared to the artists of the 1920s, or whenever. I was talking about photography itself with the advancements with cameras, lenses, and technology.

You also have to taken into consideration that the culture has changed in terms of photography. In the 1920s, not a lot of people had cameras. They were cumbersome. Once "flashes" were made, you'd use and then have to replace it. So photographers, I'd like to think, really put a lot of thought into each picture because they had such logistical limitations. Can you imagine HCB shooting 2,000 pictures at a wedding?

So I don't disagree with you that 98% of people photography -- that's all of us, our children and their smart phones, included -- is done without any artistic thought. But there are artistic photographers around us. Check out Jordan Matters' "Dancers Among Us." Beautiful concept of dancers interacting in interesting and usually very public environments. Steve Wylie could tell you about the thought process that Jordan used in coming up with these scenes. It was thoughtful, creative, spontaneous, and fun. It played off of people's (or birds', in at least one excellent case) reactions without any direction to them.

The artistic elements I'm talking about is what we're able to do with illustration and compositing in post-processing. It would be like HCB delivering one of his photos to a impressionist painter and saying: "Make something out of this." But they didn't have that, or didn't try it anyway. So what we're able to do with our photography today is unfair to what they were able to do. Does that diminish their work? No. I'm just saying that it's different: the camera's capabilities, the technology, the culture, everything.

Maybe I'll expand on this later.

Ron



Feb 15, 2013 at 05:02 PM
George61d
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p.1 #13 · Investigating an Henri Cartier-Bresson Image


Thanks for the comments.

Ron, I have to admit I misunderstood your first post. Thanks for clarifying. The Dancers among us is a great piece of work and I enjoyed looking at it. It puts me in mind of a lot of Jacques Henri Lartigue's work http://www.lartigue.org

I spent some time in the national portrait gallery in london recently and was quite surprised to see the extent of post processing that was done both on the negative and the prints in many of the Hollywood portraits from the early part of last century. It really was quite extensive.

Peter, yes there is a look to the image but there is also emotion in the other two shots that I know of from this shoot. What makes this one survive the editing table is the cross, at least in my opinion.

I don't hold this up as a great example of HCB's work, I am not even sure I like it. Thats why I wanted to investigate it.



Feb 15, 2013 at 05:46 PM





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