Here’s Henri Cartier-Bresson waiting for you (the reader) to create his next “decisive moment.” I’ve been having an on again, off-again conversation with a friend about taking a photo expedition. It’s the usual where do you want to go? conversation, and from it sprang this realization that Mr. Cartier-Bresson is my favorite photographer.
What he’s come to be known for is what he called the “decisive moment.” This picture describes that elusive moment only too well. He peered down to the street and just waited for someone to come by. The picture of the street scene alone is an engaging study of contrasts, with the curve of the road breaking into a world of squares and rectangles. The hand-rail along the steps also echos the curving line of the road, but not precisely, only enough to capture our interest, to draw our eyes in. The bicycle man bursts into the frame and is almost gone before the image is captured. But it is captured. The bicycle and it’s rider are slightly blurred, suggesting that the photographer really did leave the image to chance.
But , “Far from relying upon accident, he composes through the finder, invariably using the full negative area.” –Beaumont Newhall, from The History of Photography. 1982.
This photograph of the two boys with the model planes behind them is a great example of how all the space in the frame is utilized to great effect. When I first saw this picture, I thought there was an air show happening the background. Cartier-Bresson has the planes flying right out of the frame which is really dramatic as well as completely unexpected. It’s what makes the picture so compelling visually.
“Dessau, 1945. With a sweeping gesture of contempt, a campmate identifies a Gestapo informer who has tried to mingle with other refugees and is on the verge of being released.” The Best of Life Magazine. 1973.
Every inch of the frame is filled and a story is told from every face in the picture, but the triumph on the face of the accuser contrasted with the hang-dog expression of guilt on the accused woman’s face is the exact moment Cartier-Bresson was waiting for.
One last photograph:
I’m not sure what the title of this photograph is, but the composition is so beautiful . . . a natural triangle is formed by the men and women sitting along the shore that leads your eye to the boat in the background. You’ll see similar poses throughout classical art. Here, a woman snaps her fingers, another moves food toward her mouth, a man pours a glass of wine, the picnic is on. Maybe the people came here in that boat, or maybe they just stopped here for the view. Either way, a story is told, a scene is set, our imaginations are engaged and art happens.