A documentary about Henri Cartier-Bresson, made in 2001 when he was 93.
I watched this documentary twice, taking extensive notes (which I will append as PDF’s). The film switches between Cartier-Bresson talking about his thoughts on photography and the thoughts of other creative people talking about their fields, painting, film and music. There is an implied comparison between these different art forms and photography together with suggestions about how they are similar. It is clear throughout the documentary that both the film makers and the other creative people talking had a great affection for Cartier-Bresson and that he has maintained a mischievous nature. He clearly had a wonderful sense of humour which comes over in his photography and also in his conversation with others. All quotes are from the documentary (O’Byrne,2001).
Cartier-Bresson’s main themes are ‘what is important is to look’ and ‘we live in a privileged world’ and therefore that you should make use of that privileged position to show what is important and truthful in life. He talks about luck ‘It’s always luck, nothing else. When you want it, you won’t get it’ and about his feeling that the most important part of a good image is form ‘the basis is geometry …. Intuitively I know where it falls.’
There is a fascinating section by the photographer Klavdij Sluban which shows taking disposable cameras into a prison from youths, talking to them about the basis of composition and then letting them take their own images. There is a marked contrast between the professional and emotive film showing the young men, focusing on small details of their lives such as the food hatch and the images taken on the cheap cameras which shows what the prisoners themselves found important, mainly images of each other, often in groups and often unposed, all the more evocative of their actual lives.
Yvette Bonney says about Cartier-Bresson ‘when others are distracted and unobservant, Henri is on the lookout, ready to react, not even needing to stop’. In contrast, Cartier-Bresson talks about the need for concentration and how, when talking portraits ‘I talk nonsense because people expect you to say something …. I don’t listen to myself, I observe’.
Arihka (a painter) says ‘you have to perceive, not recognise’ and ‘it’s like the sand rearranged by the wind …. You need the wind, in other words, inspiration …. a sensual thing’, and Paolo Beschi (a cellist) says ‘when I start something is released …. like a camera shutter…. something unique is created ‘.
Parts of the film were poignant, parts funny and all fascinating. A scene of driving though a tunnel to the light reminded me of the theatre images by Sugimoto, but with an intense sense of motion rather than the stillness Sugimoto imparts. It reminded me that all senses are linked, and that although in photography we are mainly using our eyes and looking, an image can also invoke the memory of sound, feeling and the gestalt of a place or a person. A good image needs love.
O’Byrne, R. (2001). H. Cartier-Bresson: l’amour tout court. [online] Vimeo. Available at: https://vimeo.com/106009378 [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].
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