Lessons in looking, seeing and simplicity,
from Henri Cartier-Bresson
The independent bookstores. What would we do without them? I believe there would be very few promising new authors, or rare, under-the-radar books to discover. It often happened that I bought the book that was shelved right next to the one I was actually looking for whenever I visited the small bookshops in my town or whenever I travelled. Henri Cartier-Bresson is certainly not new, nor new to anyone, but his essays book, The Mind’s Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers, was certainly new to me when I spotted it in a recently re-opened favourite bookstore in town. More about this special place and the fantastic selection of books it carries, in an up-coming feature, but, for now, here are a few lessons in looking, seeing, and simplicity from Cartier-Bresson – the pioneer of street photography and the man responsible for the term the “decisive moment”, one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century and one of the founders of Magnum Photos, and the second assistant director to Jean Renoir on the films Une partie de campagne and La règle du jeu, but who realised soon that he was never going to be a director, because a great director must treat time as a novelist would, while the metier of a photojournalist was closer to a documentary filmmaker. Henri Cartier-Bresson discovered the Leica in 1932 and would never be separated from it from then on.
“What I am looking for, above all else,
is to be attentive to life.”
“I am a visual man. I watch, watch, watch.
I understand things through my eyes.”
“It is by great economy of means that one arrives
at simplicity of expression.”
“I have spent my whole life trying to be
inconspicuous in order to observe better.”
“It’s marvelous, such a sense of economy,
which is the measure of taste.”
“Then there were the movies. From some of the great films, I learned to look, and to see. Mysteries of New York, with Pearl White; the great films of D.W. Griffith –Broken Blossoms; the first films of Stroheim; Greed; Eisenstein’s Potemkin; and Dreyer’s Jeanne of Arc – these were some of the things that impressed me deeply.”
photo by me