Thursday, April 15, 2010

Black & White

[The Decisive Moment - Henri Cartier-Bresson]

There is no better way of coming to be aware of what one feels than by trying to recreate to oneself what a master has felt. - Marcel Proust

I decided to take the French writer's advice and reclined in a comfortable chair with a small book containing the words and photos of Cartier-Bresson. As an American, I have an inherent allergic reaction to the French (except for their fries), but I see ample wisdom and appeal in trying to learn from the images and thoughts of great photographers past.

So I flipped pages. I stared. I thought. I was moved. I was inspired. I really enjoy black and white photography for the timeless quality it exudes. To me, black and white and all the varying shades are what photography is at its core. The play between light and dark in an image seems to mimic another characteristic of life- the dynamic between good and evil.

I also enjoyed reading Cartier-Bresson's thoughts and philosophy on photography. In particular, the following definition of photography really struck me:

"It[photography] is putting one's head, one's eye, and one's heart on the same axis."

That line is going to have to marinate for a while, but it is one of the best descriptions of photography I have come across. Albert Camus said, "If we understood the enigmas of life, there would be no need for art." If we adopt Camus' definition of art and Cartier-Bresson's definition of photography, photography definitely meets the criteria of being art. The intersection of head, eye, and heart seems to qualify as an enigma, and an elusive one at that. The central theme of Jerry MaGuire also seeks to reconcile the conflict between head and heart, so congratulations Cameron Crowe. Your film is also art. Take your place next to Cartier-Bresson, albeit only on this blog.

After soaking in some more imagery and insight, I found myself wondering how Cartier-Bresson would photograph himself.

[Portrait of Cartier-Bresson]

What a fascinating and intriguing photograph. While Cartier-Bresson didn't take this picture, I am certain he had a hand in setting it up. I wish I saw this bad boy before I completed my self-portrait a few weeks back.

A portion of Cartier-Bresson's thoughts about a trip he made to Cuba had me laughing uncontrollably. While it was interesting to read about the opportunity he had to photograph Che Guevara and meet Fidel Castro, this next bit made me like the old chap just a little bit more. He seemed like less of a legend and more of a human (almost like someone at the studio...).

"I confess that I am French and like to look at the ladies. I was much aware that Cuban women have curves but on the opposite end and the opposite side from where they are situated on, say, Miss Jayne Mansfield.

Since curves are curves and not politics, I sometimes made errors."

And in case you are not familiar with Miss Mansfield, here is a photo:

It should be pretty clear what Cartier-Bresson meant about the Cuban women he came across. Baby got back.

Taking in the work of master photographers of the past is very humbling. Never mind the lack of image stabilization, 25,600 ISO, etc., there were no viewfinders for instant digital review or enormous CF cards. And yet, the photographers of old were able to capture breathtaking images that continue to inspire decades after they were taken. How? Those answers aren't likely to come easily, but I am content to keep digging. I look forward to reviewing the work, philosophy, and approach of other great photographers.

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