Henri Cartier-Bresson on Photography

Henri Cartier-Bresson (August 22, 1908 – August 3, 2004) was a French photographer considered to be the father of modern photojournalism. He was an early adopter of 35 mm format, and the master of candid photography. He helped develop the “street photography” or “real life reportage” style that has influenced generations of photographers who followed.

Cartier-Bresson achieved international recognition for his coverage of Gandhi’s funeral in India in 1948 and the last (1949) stage of the Chinese Civil War. He covered the last six months of the Kuomintang administration and the first six months of the Maoist People’s Republic. He also photographed the last surviving Imperial eunuchs in Beijing, as the city was falling to the communists. From China, he went on to Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), where he documented the gaining of independence from the Dutch.

“Photography is not like painting,” Cartier-Bresson told the Washington Post in 1957. “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative,” he said. “Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”

Tony’s List

I met Tony (along with a bunch of other photographers) in North Beach. He asked how long I had been shooting. I actually never know how to answer this question, but I said I’ve been taking pictures for a long time, but took a more meaningful approach only this past academic year. He asked if I had any favorite photographers. I said I didn’t know enough to answer — I’m such a noob. Then the question was turned on him and he proceeded to name a few photographers who have really inspired him. I took out my notebook and asked him to write their names down for me. He ended up giving me 12 names of photographers/influences and a book title.

Here’s his list:

  • Edward Weston
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • W. Eugene Smith
  • Josef Koudelka
  • Garry Winogrand
  • Mary Ellen Mark
  • Manuel Álvarez Bravo
  • Group f/64
  • Farm Security Administration (FSA)
  • Edward Steichen and “The Family of Man”

Some Japanese photographers:

  • Daidō Moriyama
  • Nobuyoshi Araki

Book: On Photography by Susan Sontag

I’ve got some homeworking to do.

*Note: I’m not sure why I took the picture above at 1/30 sec, which is probably why his hands are blurry. But maybe that’s not a bad thing as it captures the “writing” in action.