Henri Cartier-Bresson – L’amour tout court

The first thing that struck me while watching ‘L’amour tout court’ (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL707C8F898605E0BF) was that when taking his photo ‘Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare’ (https://iconicphotos.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/cartier-bresson-henri-iza-gare-st-lazare-paris-1932.jpg) Cartier-Bresson was not looking through the viewfinder.

This reminds me of a photograph of a wedding party that I took while walking through Sheffield, which prompted me to write a piece in this learning log entitled ‘Opportunism’ https://photosthingsandstuff.wordpress.com/2016/11/21/opportunism/ .

As Cartier-Bresson said… ‘It’s always luck.’ (L’amour tout court, 2001a)

I’m struck by Cartier-Bresson’s eye for form. How he shoots images based on the relationship of objects… the balance. He sees them and he knows what he should shoot. It is something I can relate to.

I don’t for one moment compare myself to him in terms of skill or talent, merely that his methodology in certain circumstances feels familiar; like how he suggests that you must come upon these moments and recognise them for what they are. If you specifically look for them, you won’t find them.

‘If you want it, you get nothing. Just be receptive and it happens.’ (L’amour tout court, 2001b)

Yves Bonnefoy said of Cartier-Besson that he paid attention to his surroundings, while also remaining attentive to those he was with, and this allowed him to shoot spontaneously and achieve great results. ‘Henri never dropped out of the conversation.’ (L’amour tout court, 2001c).

This sounds like the work of a genius savant, except I found myself amused when Cartier-Bresson contradicted this view himself, saying that he needs concentration when taking photos, and just talks rubbish to those around him. ‘I talk nonsense. I don’t know what I’m saying. I watch.’ (L’amour tout court, 2001d)

He does though suggest that it takes a level of innate talent to recognise that precise moment, where everything falls together, when the framing of the scene and the positioning and action of the subject are perfect. ‘You must feel it intuitively. Sensitivity, intuition… A sense of geometry. Nothing else. You have it, or you don’t.’ (L’amour tout court, 2001e).

He echoed this view later, in part 4, when asked if such skills could be taught. ‘Can one learn to look? Can one learn to have sex?’ (L’amour tout court, 2001f). I think he is saying that you can learn technique, in terms of creating balanced images and composition, but that recognising the scene that deserves photographing, and being able to faithfully capture it and do it justice takes talent, and passion, which cannot be taught.

My first impression, when watching, was one of ‘this is going to be tedious’. The first clip seemed rather direction-less and meandering. By the end, however, I found I had thoroughly enjoyed watching, and agreed with a good deal of what was said. Cartier-Bresson put into words many things which I feel I have grasped intuitively but never consciously considered. Other things, I simply agree with. While technique can be taught, talent, and passion, cannot.

Whatever… I feel more prepared now for when I begin the ‘Decisive Moment’ assignment.

(Word Count: 497)



L’amour tout court (2001) [filmed (TV?) documentary on YouTube] At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfwNrPX2pvw#t=55s

L’amour tout court (2001) [filmed (TV?) documentary on YouTube] At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfwNrPX2pvw#t=1m10s

L’amour tout court (2001) [filmed (TV?) documentary on YouTube] At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfwNrPX2pvw#t=4m02s

L’amour tout court (2001) [filmed (TV?) documentary on YouTube] At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfwNrPX2pvw#t=8m47s

L’amour tout court (2001) [filmed (TV?) documentary on YouTube] At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfwNrPX2pvw#t=5m13s

L’amour tout court (2001) [filmed (TV?) documentary on YouTube] At: