Posts Tagged Henri Cartier-Bresson

Itching Image: Decisive Moments / Simple

Come Fly With Me.© Knut Skjærven.

Nothing is more important in photography than catching a Decisive Moment. Such moments makes or breaks an image. Here is one that is pretty decisive. I young lady hanging in the air at the landing place of the Copenhagen Marathon, May 20, 2012.

That said, what is a decisive moment? Sometimes it is easier done than  said, because all do not agree on what a decisive moment is.

In a way all photographs are decisive moments. They can never be repeated and for whatever reason the release button is pressed, it renders a photographs of a decisive moment. Many people stick to such a definition and you will see lots and lots of photographs described as decisive moments. 

However, such a wide definitions renders only small letter decisive moments. Let’s call them that.

Decisive Moments with capital letters are very different. More like the definition given by Cartier – Bresson:  To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a faction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression. (The Minds Eye, Aperture 1999, page 42). These moments place a demand on both the content of an image as well as of its form. Compositions play a larger part.

How do I know the difference, you may ask?  The best way to know the difference between small and capital letter decisive moment is to take a good look at the image. With the same eyes and mind that you look at the world around you. If the image hits you as being striking it probably is. If it hits you as being Decisive it probably is. Look for the content and look for the form. The overall composition.

Can you learn how to take pictures of capital letters Decisive Moments? Good question. Some of it yes, but not all. It is like in the real world: Luck is important, and if you prepare for luck you will probably get it. You certainly can prepare.

And the other way around.

Good luck with it.

21/05/2012.

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Itching Image: Two Of A Kind (Simple)

Two Of A Kind. © Knut Skjærven.

One way to create an itchy image is to make a two of a kind shot. Like the one you see here. It is a very simple version.

You get an image of this type when you frame two (or more) similar object in a shot. It has to be objects that are not intended to be isolated or framed together. Such a strange framing is what can make an image itchy. The famous Henri Cartier -Bresson used this little trick in many of his images. He did it well.

Normally shots like this leave an impression of curiosity or  humor. A smile at least.

When I speak of objects I include people, who are normally called subjects. Objects or subjects, in this context, it does not matter. In the shot above we actually have one of each: one live person sitting down, and one kind of similar object in the painting. In addition to have a somewhat similar overall outline of the two. Look at their hands and their faces. Same (roughly) positions of hands and the somewhat same strange expression in their faces. Look at the mouths.

The picture is taken at the Danish National Gallery in Copenhagen. Earlier this year (2012).

You can, of course, also make three of a kind and you can substitute objects with situations or groups of people, which will leave you will more complex images. In this example you get the very simple version. I would say that three of a kind is rather difficult to do. Groups or situations might be easier.

I mentioned that Henri Cartier – Bresson used this technique.  His shot from Athens in 1953 is a good example. Here he combines two groups of a kind: two women upstairs (the decoration of the house), and two women downstair (passing on the pavement). Another one is shot in Nepal in 1963 showing a concrete figure with roughly the same outline as a passing woman. Another one yet is taken in Rome in 1951 showing a male hairdresser looking out the window of his shop. He is flanked by a poster of a woman in the other window. There are many more such examples in Cartier – Bresson’s portfolio.

I would say that two of a kind was probably one of Cartier – Bresson’s favorite techniques for creating itchy images.

When you see the shots that I have mentioned you will know what two of a kind is all about. It is that very combination which makes the images mentioned. Two of a kind is an effective way to create an itching image. 

Very easy for you to try as well. Good luck with it.

15/05/2012

© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved. (Text and image.)

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Connotation: Aestheticism

Docklands. © Knut Skjærven.

This is actually one of the very few places where Roland Barthes refers to the great master of French street photography: Henri Cartier – Bresson. The article is written in 1961 and Bresson was at his peak of performance as a photographer.

In describing his fifth connotation procedure Aestheticism, Barthes uses these words: “Thus Henri Cartier – Bresson constructed Cardinal Pacelli’s reception by the faithful of Lisieux like a painting by an earlier master. The resulting photograph, however, is in no way a painting …”. /24 (Here is the photograph in question).

In the sentences before this rare reference to Cartier – Bresson, Barthes says: “For if one can talk of aestheticism in photography, it is seemingly in an ambiguous fashion”./24 When photography try to turn painting it could be a) either a trial or an aspiration suggesting that photography, like painting, indeed is an art form in its own right; or b) “to impose a generally more subtle and complex signified than would be possible with other connotation procedures”./24

This is then the ambiguity that Barthes is talking about: the aspiration to be art, or to invoke more subtle connotations. Fair enough.

The reference to Cartier – Bresson is very convenient. Cartier – Bresson’s dream in early days was, in fact, to become a painter, and he chose photography only as a second option having tried his way as a painter with no great success. Cartier – Bresson was indeed familiar with the rules of composition and he stuck to the classic guidelines all of his life. It is said, that he even had a little notebook with him in which he kept sketches of famous paintings as an ongoing inspiration for his photography. A brilliant idea if that is the road you want to take as a photographer.

The big question is: What could be the connotative effects of for instance Cartier – Bressons road to photography leaning as he did on classical guidelines for composition. Here comes the answer, or at least one of them: the connotations embedded in such a procedure is that of harmony, beauty and pleasantness. But also control. All of them Cartier – Bressons trademarks as a photographer.

It would be absolutely wrong to say that Cartier – Bresson was a copier of master painters, but is would be absolutely right to state that he indeed used classical rules for compositions in his photographic work.

To use a similar path to photography, or for that matter NOT to use a similar path to photography, both require knowledge of the matter. Knowledge of painters’ ways, knowledge of compositional structures. How else could one hope to connote anything bases on aestheticism.

This discussion brings us back to more practical matters: One of the ideas of Street Photographer’s Toolbox is, indeed, to disclose and discuss basic rules of composition. Not to become painters, but to stay photographers.

Have a good day.

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25/05/2012

Relates posts in this section:  Introduction; Trick Effects; Pose; Objects; Photogenia; Aestheticism; and Syntax.

Street Photography Training Sessions: See Street University.

Library Thing: Image, Music, Text, Fontana Press, London 1977.

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