Henri Cartier-Bresson

“Watch the Henri Cartier-Bresson documentary ‘L’amour de court’ (‘Just plain love’, 2001) available in five parts on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL707C8F898605E0BF

Write a personal response to the film in the contextual section of your learning log, taking care to reference properly any quotations you use (300–500 words).”

As I am not that familiar with Henri Cartier-Bresson, so in addition to watching the film, I also spent some time reading about his life and work, which helped me further understand the interview he gave. His images were beautifully composed and its easy to see how his style has had such a large influence.

He comes across as a chap who loved life and felt a connection with humanity as a whole. (Lets gloss over his fondness of brothels, which wasn’t quite as endearing – different era) This connection with humankind shows in his pictures, and I disagree with Gaby Wood’s comment that his work is “numbly impersonal”. They are elegant, they are beautifully composed and certainly artistic, but there is emotion contained within them. I take the point that they differ from a modern style of photography, they are not raw and edgy,  the ‘spontaneity’ is carefully considered at times. However I simply feel he had an excellent eye and fully connected with the world around him.

Surely anything but impersonal?

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Henri-Bresson,  Paris 1955

I wonder if the concept of “The Decisive Moment” has been mythologised a little? Although his images capture a perfectly timed moment, he also used his excellent eye to spot the potential through his view finder, then shot several pictures in order to capture exactly the right composition. Its only common sense that he should have a selection of images to choose from. However, this was one of the first from his contact sheet!

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Henri-Bresson, Seville 1933

It really intrigues me that he eventually abandoned photography to return to his first love, drawing. I believe its a strange irony that some people who are blessed with a certain talent do not like to fit the categories we want to impose upon them. However it seems unusual to simply give up the very thing you are famous for – for most talented people they simply cannot give up the thing they love, it drives them, defines them – surely they would experience a profound sense of loss to simply stop? But I can only guess that for Cartier-Bresson, he loved composition and that only the medium changed, not his creativity.

References

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/23/henri-cartier-bresson-the-decisive-moment-reissued-photography

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n11/gaby-wood/nothing-to-do-with-me

https://iconicphotos.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/hcb_seville.jpg?w=1408&h=1378

http://www.biography.com/people/henri-cartier-bresson-9240139

10 Things Henri Cartier-Bresson Can Teach You About Street Photography

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Exercise 3.3

 

  1. “What do the timeframes of the camera actually look like? If you have a manual film camera, open the camera back (make sure there’s no film in the camera first!) and look through the shutter as you press the shutter release. What is the shortest duration in which your eyes can perceive a recognisable image in bright daylight? Describe the experiment in your learning log.
  2. Find a good viewpoint, perhaps fairly high up (an upstairs window might do) where you can see a wide view or panorama. Start by looking at the things closest to you in the foreground. Then pay attention to the details in the middle distance and, finally, the things towards the horizon. Now try and see the whole landscape together, from the foreground to horizon (you can move your eyes). Include the sky in your observation and try to see the whole visual field together, all in movement (there is always some movement). When you’ve got it, raise your camera and take a picture. Add the picture and a description of the process to your learning log.”

Unfortunately I can’t complete question 1 at this time, as I don’t currently have access to a manual camera. If I do get the chance to look at one, I’ll return to this and comment then.

I positioned myself at an upstairs window which looks down over the garden (We are staying my ‘in laws’ home til our house sale goes through)

1/20 sec;   f/22;   ISO 100 Here’s the view using a wide angle attachment. It was less than a tenner, and yes I suppose you get what you pay for! Obviously this heavy vignetting wasn’t my intention, but it sort of feel like looking through a porthole?!

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1/10 sec;   f/22;   ISO 100 You can just see the edge of the window frame bottom right, and strangely static washing!

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1/30 sec;   f/20;   ISO 100  Lovely sky and billowing washing.  I didn’t feel the camera lens placed a feeling of restricted view for this shot, as it felt quite close to the view I was actually seeing. Surprising how much landscape can be viewed through a normal kit lens.

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Exercise 3.2

“Start by doing your own research into some of the artists discussed.

Then, using slow shutter speeds, the multiple exposure function, or another technique inspired by the examples, try to record the trace of movement within the frame. You can be as experimental as you like. Add a selection of shots together with relevant shooting data and a description of your process (how you captured the shots) to your learning log.”

Robert Capa – (B. Endre Friedmann) was a Hungarian war photographer best known for the coverage of D-Day 1944, for Life magazine. He settled in the States, and worked on other conflicts for the US media, such as the Spanish Civil War and was killed in 1954 whilst on assignment in Vietnam.

Its difficult to imagine how photographers managed to work at that time, and how physically vulnerable they were during this kind of assignment. I feel his work displays courage and quick thinking during really extreme conditions. I also think its to his enormous credit that he helped save the life of a fellow photographer, who had been shot four times in the shoulder, whilst weighed down by equipment trying to reach the shore.

It seems that the motion blur in his iconic D-Day photo was a result of the extreme conditions, rather than a device deliberately employed by him. However, its interesting that a debate remains over whether the picture known as “The Falling Solider”,  taken during the Spanish Civil War, was actually staged.

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He and his partner Gerda Taro, were politically motivated in their reporting of the conflict, rather than remaining impartial. However I gather that the staging of photos was generally quite common at the time. And this begs the question – should a photographer always be impartial? Gerda Taro was the first female war photographer to be killed in the field, in Madrid, 1937. Whatever the ‘truth’ of their images, all evidence points to their deep sense of involvement in their subject. I can’t help respecting that.

Robert Capa’s Iconic D-Day Photo of a Soldier in the Surf

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/arts/design/27kenn.html?_r=0

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/robert-capa-in-love-and-war/47/

Robert Frank – is an American photographer and film maker, most famous for his book “The Americans”.  Travelling around America with his family in the 1950s, he took a huge number of photos – a total of 28,000 pictures – and when first published, the book displayed just 83 black and white images.  The pictures are a compelling set of ‘character studies’ from a cross section of society.  Guardian journalist Sean O’Hagan comments that Franks work was provocative as “it flew in the face of the wholesome pictorialism and heartfelt photojournalism of American magazines like Life and Time. The Americans was shocking – and enduringly influential – because it simply showed things as they were. ‘I was tired of romanticism,” Frank told me, ‘I wanted to present what I saw, pure and simple.’ ”

robert-frank

I would argue that the American public did have the stomach for realism. Other photographers were also interested in ‘real life’,  not just pretty pictures. One early example is Dorothea Lange, her depiction of America during the depression is credited with helping to highlight the urgent need for support. I feel her emphasis was on human endurance, humanity and suffering.

dorothea_lange

In contrast, I’m a little uncomfortable about realism that depicts people as ‘ugly’. Some contemporary street photographers such as Bruce Gilden seem to almost alienate the viewer by emphasising the awkwardness of humans. I feel is a more aggressive and far less respectful way of revealing our human quirks.

Here’s another welcome example of the emphasis on our humanity, is Del La Grace Volcano, an American trangender photographer. The images draw us in, they are often playful, and warm. These are not photos of victims made to shock us.

Del La Grace VolcanoDel La Grace

I often think it shows when a photographer likes their subjects!

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/nov/07/robert-frank-americans-photography-influence-shadows

http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/features/robert-frank.html

Hiroshi Sugimoto – A Japanese photographer who experimented with keeping his shutter open for hours, notably in cinemas for the duration of a film. I read one of my fellow students comment about this, namely that the idea is a great deal more interesting than the actual photos. So true! Its just a a series of dark cinema interiors with a white screen. Only light remains. Kinda poetic but not that interesting to look at. If you’ve seen one…you’ve seen em all.

In contrast, I think this is diorama series is much more interesting. Taxidermy anyone?

hiroshi-sugimoto-dioramas-book

http://www.wired.com/2015/01/hiroshi-sugimoto-dioramas/

Michael Wesely – This German chap used really long exposures, of several years in duration! (Question – how did he keep the camera there the whole time? Where was it positioned without being nicked?)

Anyway. The results are rather graceful and other worldly. Lovely.

weseley

http://www.moma.org/collection/artists/8194

http://www.artnet.com/artists/michael-wesely/

Maarten Vanvolsem – This technique uses the ‘strip-scan process’, which builds up multiple pieces of an image like a still film sequence, fused into a single picture. I really like this effect, it feels a bit like a strange kind of time travel or parallel universe.

Vanvolsen

http://www.imageandnarrative.be/inarchive/Timeandphotography/vanvolsem.html

Francesca Woodman – Autobiographical photography which is imaginative, haunting and poignant. I think its inevitable that my response to her work is heightened by the knowledge of her untimely death. She was just 22 years old when she took her own life. I wonder how we would view this work if we could now google a mature smiling woman with decades of work behind her? It’s very sad this is the only window we will ever have on her world.

woodman002

http://www.berk-edu.com/RESEARCH/francescaWoodman/index.html#23

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/francesca-woodman-10512

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/aug/31/searching-for-the-real-francesca-woodman

My work 

I had a go at capturing water from my kitchen tap, these shutter speeds were the slowest I could manage without my hands causing camera shake.

1/25 sec;   f/16;   ISO 200

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I really like the way the water appears to have a trail of ‘electric sparks’ here, as the movement is frozen, but still has energy

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The rest of these pictures are taken after buying a tripod, as it became clear I would struggle to experiment any further with slow shutter speeds without one.  This is the stream at the end of the garden where I’m staying. Why the odd composition?Unfortunately the only access is looking down over this wall. But it allowed me to start using the tripod and timer delay.

1.0 sec;   f/18;   ISO 100

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Next I looked at movement inspired by nature and the passage of time, in the form of a cloudy sky and a sun dial. This is my first attempt at multiple exposure. I’m not sure if my camera has this setting, so I took pictures and combined them very simply in photoshop. I’d read that one of the images needs to be under exposed to allow the second image to show through…

So I took a few pictures of the sky 1/80 sec;   f/18;   ISO 100

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And here’s the sundial – at normal exposure

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And under exposed 1/60 sec;   f/29;   ISO 100

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I opened both images in photoshop, laid the sky on top and altered it to ‘Screen’ to mimic a double exposure. Here’s the result

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I’m not really sure its worked very well, I think it would require a lot more fiddling in photoshop to make it look good?!

My last experiment was inspired more directly by one of the photographers we were asked to look at – Francesca Woodman. and one of my fellow OCA students, Alan http://whatifiamwrong.weebly.com/square-mile.html who has produced some really inspiring autobiographical work.

I’m very conscious that I have been taking rather boring impersonal images, and that it would be interesting to put a little more of my own life into my pictures, although I’m still really unsure how to do this in a way that makes sense to anyone else…

What I want to say is about my experience of chronic physical illness, and the frustrations and limitations it imposes. I decided to use the technique of keeping most of my body stationary, while moving my arms or head to create motion blur.

How to show something emotionally real and meaningful? Hmmmm. It seems that photographers quite often use nudity…. Um. That’s not gonna happen! Obviously I’m self conscious, but also I feel there are probably enough images of women in vulnerable poses (e.g. lying prone, curled up in feotal position etc) already, and I don’t want to look passive.

Honstly, I felt a bit weird and stupid staging these pictures as of course I had to pose for them. I’m still cringing as I post these. Do I need to explain it? Well thats my folding seat as I have difficulty standing for long, and the doors to life are often metaphorically closed. Blah, blah. The seat baffles people in real life too. And sometimes makes people laugh.

1.0 sec;   f/16;   ISO 100

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On showing these to several kind friends who also have chronic health problems, the feedback was that the images had emotional resonance for them, but would maybe need further explanation for a ‘general audience’. I still working on how to communicate via image!

 

 

Exercise 3.1

 

“Using fast shutter speeds, try to isolate a frozen moment of time in a moving subject. Depending on the available light you may have to select a high ISO to avoid visible blur in the photograph. Try to find the beauty in a fragment of time that fascinated John Szarkowski. Add a selection of shots, together with relevant shooting data and a description of your process (how you captured the images), to your learning log.”

I’m very new to using Shutter Priority mode so I decided to keep things simple and focus on one subject whilst varying the shutter speed. We have now sold my house, and are currently staying with my partner’s parents. This gives me the opportunity to shoot in fresh surroundings (a welcome change from my own home)…The following pictures are of a little spinning wind gauge. I can’t claim its a very accurate ‘experiment’, as of course the speed it was rotating at varied. As with earlier projects, this helped me begin to get a feel for how to handle the camera settings.

Its hard to convey this here, but if you look at each image in succession, you get a glimpse of motion as you move through the sequence of images.

windGauge

I began with a very high shutter speed, and found that I had to crank up the ISO a lot. As my tutor has pointed out I need to work on correct exposure, so I was trying to look more carefully at the available light. I was quite surprised that at the higher shutter speeds,  even during a bright sunny day,  I had to adjust the ISO to 1600. This is the kind of thing that is probably very obvious to anyone with experience!

Image 1 – 1/3200 F13 ISO 1600

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Cropped close up

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Image 2 – 1/2500 F13 ISO1600

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Image 3 – 1/2000 F14 ISO 1600 (I had to wait for the sun for this one. The only way I could have taken an image in cloudy sky would have been to put the ISO up to level ‘Hi 1’)

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Image 5 1/1250 F16 ISO 1600

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I like this composition the most

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Image 6 1/1000 F10 ISO 400 (By this point the shutter speed allowed me to lower the ISO)

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Image 7 1/800 F11 ISO 400

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Pic 8 1/640 F13 ISO 400

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Pic8LowRes

You can see in some cases I have cropped my images, which I gather is a subject that attracts quite a lot of debate and I may well return to this issue another time. What I’ve discovered so far is that the camera didn’t have to be up at the highest shutter speeds to clearly capture this movement 1/640 was perfectly adequate, and I suspect I could have reduced the speed further still.

Something to think about is when would motion blur enhance an image? The static blades don’t convey a sense of motion, which may not be the most effective result. However the beautiful blue sky and gently whirring blades did give me a sense of stillness and peace as I was watching, and I’d like to think I have captured this tranquil mood.