Photography – A Beginner’s Guide – Street Photography [Henri Cartier-Bresson] – An article by Goff James

Welcome followers and visitors to my blog and another update in my photography Beginner’s Guide to Photography.

This week I will be talking about Street Photography and looking at an image by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

As I have stated in previous articles one can learn so much about photography by looking at; and, talking about other photographers’ work.

Street Photography may be defined as;

  • featuring subjects in candid situations featuring unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public spaces. [1]
  • not necessitating either the presence of any urban environ or any human presence within it. It can be of an object or environment where the image projects a decidedly human character in facsimile or aesthetic.[2][page needed][3]
  • reflecting society as it manifests itself and non-manipulated where the subjects are unaware of the photographer’s presence. The photographer, in a sense, can be viewed as an extension of the flâneur – a casual street observer.
  • being ironic, amusing and be distanced from the subject matter. It frequently focuses upon a single human action captured at a decisive or poignant moment. The vocabulary of street photography is subtlety with no inherent premeditated message.
  • providing a very literal and extreme rendition of the subject and provide a more unfamiliar visceral experience beyond the personal experience of the viewer.
  • being able to document a particular scenario and defined by its very candidness.

being aloof and impartial in the nature of any particular activity delivering a true depiction of that which is being observed.

1.Warner Marien, Mary (2012). 100 ideas that changed photography. London: Laurence King Publishing. p. 169. ISBN 978-1-85669-793-4.

2.Colin Westerbeck. Bystander: A History of Street Photography. 1st ed. Little, Brown and Company, 1994.

3.”Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 2015-04-22. Retrieved 2015-04-21.

http://www.urbanpicnic-streetphotography.com/what-is-street-photography/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Street_photography

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 17.50.56
Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Var department. Hyères.
1932

The Var department. Hyères.

Created: 1932 Printed Later/ Date Unstated

Medium: gelatin silver print on paper

Dimensions: 196 x 291 mm

https://www.phototraces.com/creative-photography/famous-street-photographers/

From a compositional perspective a black railing runs across the image horizontally, beginning at the left side of the frame and gradually twisting around and spirals downwards along a steep stone staircase in towards the centre of the scene.

A black and white composition comprising of different monochromatic hues, geometric shapes and patterns which infuses the image with form and life.

The image is taken from a high vantage point, looking down towards the street, and the stairway in the middle moves from the foreground through to the background of the image as it leads down to the road below.

This road curves in a wide arc across the top portion of the photograph and a black-clad figure can be seen riding a bicycle along it in the upper left corner of the scene.

The image combines architectural elements that suggest movement through their spirals and curves, and the manner in which they lead down to the moving figure of the cyclist.

The photo possesses an excellent depth of fieldIt was probably taken using a tripod with the camera on large aperture and fast exposure settings.

The image combines architectural elements that suggest movement through their spirals and curves, and the manner in which they lead down to the moving figure of the cyclist. It was probably taken using a tripod with the camera on large aperture and fast exposure settings.


The photograph reflects the concept of the ‘fixed-explosive’. That which Clément Chéroux described as:

“… the state of something simultaneously in motion and at rest …”

This notion of movement that ignite lines into motion and energises compositions is clearly present within the image.

The manner in which the image has been framed, composed and its cyclical rhythm create a sense of motion and dynamism.

The composition possesses at one and the same time a sense of the varying tensions between motion and being at rest.

The appeal of the image lies in the way the  skill of HC-B has captured and frozen a very precise decisive moment in time and action and created a ‘photographic narrative that anticipates a social happening just before the moment happens.

The appeal of the image lies in the way the  skill of HC-B has captured and frozen a very precise decisive moment in time and action and created a ‘photographic narrative that anticipates a social happening just before the moment happens.


The image possesses a narrative that requires as  Cartier-Bresson 1952 stated:

… a joint collaboration between viewer’s brain, eye and emotion. In so doing the viewer is enabled to perceive the image and its content and interpret the content through the process of unfolding, and to communicate impressions.

The composition depicts the isolated moment at which the speeding cyclist is framed by the surrounding solid architecture enhancing the dynamism and enhanced even further by the stationary yet curving progression of the stairway.

The image is taken from the high viewpoint of the descending stone steps and implicates the photographer within the narrative  as well as drawing the viewer into the image through the curving leading lines of the stairway and kerbstones.

Cartier-Bresson is also broadly known for the artistic term “The Decisive Moment,” which states that if you are able to see the moment, then you most likely won’t capture it.

Photographers have to learn to anticipate social happenings in order to fully capture “The Decisive Moment.” In other words, the term practically invites photographers to develop the ability to press the shutter button just before the moment happens.

I trust that you find some of these ideas useful within the context of your own photography. Don’t be afraid to experiment and allow different ideas to develop as you go along.

Remember what I referred to in previous articles about taking photos and creating photograms; the same applies to considering your own photos, other photographers’ work as well as applying different artist’s ideas too.

Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Experiment! Experiment! Experiment!

Remember there are no right or wrong answers or ways of doing it.

Your photographs are your world.

You can do what you like. 

Don’t worry about the theory and trying to remember everything about how to take or consider how to look at or stage a photograph.

Don’t worry about what you might think is right or wrong in talking about or taking photographs.

 Make mistakes. Laugh. Have funJust enjoy the process.

Happy Photography. 

Thank you for your visit.

goffjamesart.wordpress.com

Art Photography Poetry

Reference List

https://www.phototraces.com/creative-photography/famous-street-photographers/

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/cartier-bresson-hyeres-france-p13112

https://www.moma.org/collection/works/44586

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/286639

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/3656798/The-Leica-Leonardo.html

https://curiator.com/art/henri-cartier-bresson/france-the-var-department-hyeres-1932

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/cartier-bresson-hyeres-france-p13112