Exercise 3.3

The exercise is to compare the vision directly with your eyes versus the vision via a camera lens.

When you stand and look at a wide panorama the instinct is to look outwards first, taking in the whole scene and then look at the details. In this exercise you were asked to start with looking at the near ground, moving to the middle and then on to the distance.

I chose an outside landscape where I was standing on the side of a hill, with the ground falling away from of me, then rising to the hills in the distance. There was a fence just in front of me covered in roses in bloom. On looking at the scene I found that I tended to compartmentalise it into visual ‘rooms’ or areas. After the initial glance at the whole scene I would concentrate on a small piece at a time, such as the roses or the hills in the background. I found myself looking around the area- so taking in a greater field of vision than the camera would, even with a wide angle lens. Your brain automatically interprets what you are seeing as three dimensional (provided that you are looking with both eyes or have other reference points such as size of an object). I found it hard to look at, and take in, the whole area at once.

I then took a photograph without moving from the spot. I used a short focal length to get as much of the image in focus as possible, as your eyes automatically refocus between near and far so everything you are looking at appears in focus. On looking at the image the main differences between what I had ‘seen’ and the photograph were

  • It is ‘flat’ – two dimensional
  • The rose in the foreground is much more prominent than I was aware (and looks larger)
  • The sky is much less prominent- I was automatically looking up, but the image is not large enough to show this even on the widest lens setting I had (14mm)
  • There is no sense of movement – it was a very windy day, even taken at 1/60 sec it has ‘frozen’ the moment
  • There is an odd bit of tree in the top right corner, my brain had ignored it as it was over my head

Learning points:

  • This was an interesting exercise and clearly demonstrates that what your eyes are seeing is not the same as the image you are going to get
  • Be aware of the limitations of the camera
  • Watch for visual distortions with things that are very close to you – the rose


L’amore de court – Just plain love

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].