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What's Really Important?

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"Photography has not changed since its origin except in its technical aspects, which for me are not important." -Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

Was HCB correct in his view? What, in the end, is really important?

 

I stayed up last night examining the work of HCB contained in the book: "Henri Cartier Bresson, The Man the Image and the World" I was just amazed, and more importantly, moved by the volume and quality of his work. He mastered the art of capturing his images at just the right "decisive moment" with just the right elements in the compostions. Most of the pictures were from the 40's, 50's, old stuff with gear that can't compete today, yet they have an incredible magic and quality. I tip my hat to the man (even though I don't really wear a hat). I sense that most people running around with cameras today and debating this or that don't have a clue about this. What an exciting career he had at a time when there was so much wealth to photograph. Something has been lost in the current age of technical wonder.

 

Wilfredo

Benitez-Rivera Photography

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Technically a lot of HCBs worth wasn't that hot, but he took photographs that are rather better than those posted here with our state of the art lenses and cameras. There's a lesson to be learned there!

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I also believe that in HCB's time certain aspects to photographing people was a lot easier.

 

Regrettably, today with the proliferation of digicams and everyone poking them, often unwanted, into other peoples business, it is becoming much riskier shooting "HCB style". Many subjects resent cameras, much more than I believe they did in his time. That, IMHO, is the single greatest obstacle to great (street) photography today.

 

I do believe that the humble Leica M is even more than ever the best suited to this type of shooting precisely because it can be used unobserved in many situations.

 

Cheers,

Erl

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Steve:

 

I guess we often get hung up on technical perfection -- and even this is arbitrary -- and lose sight of the deeper value of an image. As I go through hundreds of HCP pictures I realize that many lack technical perfection although most have an excellent standard in that arena, given what he had to work with and the fact that he didn't print his own work

(at least for the most part). Yet his images remain powerful, some of the best in the history of photography. I agree, there is something to be learned here.

 

Erl:

 

I think you are right, it is more difficult now to do street photography involving people and I don't do as much as I would like to for the reasons you stated. I find that in third world countries it's not quite so bad. I once took a picture of a little girl in a park in Montevideo, Uruguay and when the parents saw what I was doing, they were thrilled, here in the U.S. they would have probably been suspect. For the most part I don't even bother any more.

 

I can only imagine what an exciting life it must have been for HCB to capture all those wonderful images at a time when the world still had some character. Now the modern world seems to be void of this. Everywhere you go seems like the last place you left, modern and sterile, even the people in their daily rush to survive seem like mannequins, running in place and going nowhere, no personality reflected in their faces, no spark, no mystery, no authentic sense of adventure.

 

Now even adventure is artificial, ie. T.V. reality shows. We in the industrialized world live in a very strange and chaotic universe. Perhaps that is why a lot of the artistic photographic work I see today seems to be reflecting a bad dream.

 

I'm including here one of my favorite "Life" shots from my website. It could have been taken somewhere in Europe, say 40, 50, or 60 years ago. I took this picture only a few years ago, right here in California. Subjects like this are hard to come by. I invite others to post some of their favorite shots here (more or less in keeping with the decisive moment tradition of HCB). © Wilfredo Benitez-Rivera.

 

 

Cheers,

Wilfredo+

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Wilfredo,

 

I think your post has captured the thoughts and feelings of many among us. To enhance your saying about the triviality of technical affairs in HCB's work, I'd like to point out Robert Frank's masterpiece "The Americans" whose photographs are even more technically inferior by today's standards. Yet...

 

Best,

Paul

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well... photography is not paintng for example.. it depends very much on the technology... cartier bresson was one of the most important figures who took the technological advantage of creating a small camera (the leica) and made a new photography....

 

if picture from cartier bressons perioud or jaques lartigues etc looks different than pictures in later generation times than it is not only technological aspects.. it is a different "visison"... and ya.. no doubt - we have different visions.. different attitudes in photography all the time. sometimes big changes, sometimes small, sometimes getting back to old with newer look and approach,, sometimes bringing something totally fresh..

 

one thing is omportant though... while today, we have a great breackthrough in technology (with digital era)... it seems that photography basically doesnt not make great changes generally speacking...

why is this??? i think two reasons..

1. there is not much place to explore new fields in photography as it was in old times when the medium of photography was new... this doesnt mean that one cannot be creative. for cretivness there is plenty room of course... but there is long time that almost all the feilds of dramatic inovations in "photo-making" where explored...

2. the new look that came with computer based workflow and involvement is not really about "photo-making" in itslef.. i think it is more a matter of graphic work than of pure photography

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Paul,

 

Thanks for adding that lovely shot. Robert Frank's work is very powerful. There are images that simply have spirit, they capture a moment in time in such a way that they draw us into that moment as if we were part of it. Looking at an image with that kind of quality one could almost hear the sounds, or feel the atmosphere surrounding them. Capturing that pure essence, stripped of gimmicks, I think is part of our challenge today as lovers of the fine art of photography.

 

Vic,

 

I resonate with what you say about "a different vision" in the era of Bresson and Jaques Lartigues (although I'm not familiar with the later). I guess vision can be fluid. What I am looking for in a photograph is spirit. I don't know what else to call it. It is a quality that transcends all our mental faculties. A quality that makes us pause and take notice, and most of the time we don't even know why.

 

Cheers,

Wilfredo+

Benitez-Rivera Photography

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Paul,

 

The more I look at your image the more I am saddened by the world we live in today. It appears that the man on the cell phone won't take a moment to enjoy life through the music of the violinist. He's too busy taking care of business to relax. It makes me want to go into the picture, smash his cell phone and scatter his precious papers. I wonder how this scene would have played out 50, 60, 70 years ago?

 

Cheers,

Wilfredo+

Benitez-Rivera Photography

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He might be phoning an agent saying "Hey, you have to sign this brilliant girl playing the violin"

 

Or, maybe not...

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wilfredo i perfectly understand u regarding the "spirit"... this word can differ in my view and your view of course, but true.. it is that feeling (great imotional impact) that makes great photography...

does it exists in todays photographers... ya - i think in many it exists.. one just needs to be exposed to it...

 

there is also elment if exitement of "old" which is partly known and partly discovered in photos that makes old photos very xiting. also - we should remember that even those days there were many photographers while we can remember only the important and the influencial figures... true, today there are far more photographers then in past (cause everybody can hold camera and take picture with auto-everything)... but today too, we can find a photographers with spirit....

 

about lartigue...

here are two links im sending u...

 

Donation Jacques Henri Lartigue

 

u can find here some info about him

 

and this is my fave book of lartigue (although i have it in slightly different previous eddition of themes&hudson)

 

Amazon.com: Jacques Henri Lartigue, Photographer (Lartigue): Books: Jacques-Henri Lartigue,Vicki Goldberg

 

now... i really love cartier-bresson. he is great and everything... but i think that lartigue is a photographer that goes far beyound bresson and he is also slightly earlier photographer... look into this book and u will imidiatly understand what i mean... in his photographs u see a great visual abilities.. u see a great enthusiasm and childish love to photography (in best means of this phrase)... u see the epoch he lived in.. especially the earlier photos where he documents the life around him.. amazing... how people tried to fly and build airplances.. how the walked around paris, how the fashion was in streets... actually - i think no body comes close to this amazing photographer in documenting the spirit of time... not even cartier bresson or koudleka or any other current great documentary photographer... the only one who may come to his intesity somewhat close is the great documentary photographer called Abbas (u can find him on magnum). but while abbas documenting in great manner the revolution in iran (look into his "iran diary"), lartigue has something greater - something i would call - HEGELIAN - in his photos the SPIRIT OF THE TIME is transcended in manner that u hardly can find in other works...

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"Pictures, regardless of how they are created and recreated, are intended to be looked at. This brings to the forefront not the technology of imaging, which of course is important, but rather what we might call the eyenology (seeing)."

 

"I'm not responsible for my photographs. Photography is not documentary, but intuition, a poetic experience. It's drowning yourself, dissolving yourself, and then sniff, sniff, sniff – being sensitive to coincidence. You can't go looking for it; you can't want it, or you won't get it. First you must lose your self. Then it happens."

 

 

Cheers,

Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Guest Bernd Banken

You can't go looking for it; you can't want it, or you won't get it. First you must lose your self. Then it happens."

 

Cheers,

Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

THIS is the point. The biggest privileg of HCB was the time he could spend in his quarters without any pressure, I guess.

 

Bernd

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wilfredo... brendt..

 

bresson is a great photogrpaher - no doubt about it... he is also one of my most beloved photographers...

but i think that every photographer has to find it own path.. his own philosophy, his own attitude both in making photos and in looking at them.

and studing other photographers, especialy those great ones like bresson is part of this "path"...

 

and what - irving penn has different views about photography - so what, isnt he one of the most important photographers... wasnt it "really important" what he was doing and what he was showing in his photos??

 

by the way.. lartigue said, that god loves him and that god wants him to be happy... he said that he knows it because god give him a camera and that what makes him most happy. he was child then but his attitude to it never changed.. and u see it in his photographs. :-))))))

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"....On that note, he heads out onto the street for a cigarette. When he returns, and drinks have been ordered, he looks relieved. Winston shows us his father's camera, a Leica, embossed with the name William Eggleston, and the man himself tells us he is waiting for a commission 'to come over to England to photograph the Brighton Pavilion'. Somebody please put in that call.

 

I ask him if he would miss taking photographs if, for some reason, he had to stop. 'Probably not,' he says, shaking his head. 'I don't have a burning desire to go out and document anything. It just happens when it happens. It's not a conscious effort, nor is it a struggle. Wouldn't do it if it was. The idea of the suffering artist has never appealed to me,' he says, smiling his childlike smile. 'Being here is suffering enough.'

 

Though he seems tired of talking photography, I ask him finally if there is an underlying discipline that governs his work. He shrugs. 'Let me put it this way, I work very quickly and that's part of it.

 

I only ever take one picture of one thing. Literally. Never two. So then that picture is taken and then the next one is waiting somewhere else.' Let me get this straight, I say, astonished: each image he has produced is the result of one single shot? He nods. And what happens, I ask, if you don't get the picture you want in that one shot? 'Then I don't get it,' he answers simply. 'I don't really worry if it works out or not.

 

I figure it's not worth worrying about. There's always another picture.' He makes his genius sound almost accidental, I suggest. He thinks about this for a while. 'Yes,' he nods, smiling. 'There's probably something to that. The "almost" is important, though.'

 

from here: Guardian Unlimited Arts | Arts features | Out of the ordinary

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Interesting that you should admire Lartigue, Victor; admiration that I share. I've no doubt he was a great photographer, and indeed captured the spirit of his age -- or at least some of it. Because he was a wealthy amateur photographer. And photographed his friends and family -- his own world --beautiful people in beautiful places having fun and nice times -- and cars and planes -- fascinated by motion and new devices. What's wonderful about it is that his splendid photography came out of something he did for pleasure, with no high aspirations for it or (apparently) theories about it. It's great that he just photographed what he liked, with no apparent sense that there were things that he should photograph, or ways of doing it, no paths to follow (or avoid) -- just perfectly naturally and spontaneously. He didn't do wars, photojournalism , the poor etc. Just fun and pleasure! And his body of pictures lookng back is now properly seen as great art.

 

I think he's a very appropriate hero for the Leica Camera User Forum!

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I can't argue with you Victor, we each have our own unique gifts. You wrote: "by the way.. lartigue said, that God loves him and that God wants him to be happy... he said that he knows it because God give him a camera and that what makes him most happy. he was child then but his attitude to it never changed.. and u see it in his photographs. :-))))))"

I guess God must love me to :-) For me photogrpahy and spirituality are linked, entangled.

 

I can relate to the following Kevin: "I only ever take one picture of one thing. Literally. Never two. So then that picture is taken and then the next one is waiting somewhere else.' Let me get this straight, I say, astonished: each image he has produced is the result of one single shot? He nods. And what happens, I ask, if you don't get the picture you want in that one shot? 'Then I don't get it,' he answers simply. 'I don't really worry if it works out or not."

 

Most of my experience has been like this to some degree. My best shots have for the most part been "one shot" deals.

 

Cheers,

Wilfredo+

 

Wilfredo+

Benitez-Rivera Photography

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"I take photographs with love, so I try to make them art objects. But I make them for myself first and foremost--that is important. If they are art objects at the same time, that's fine with me."

 

Regards,

Jacques-Henri Lartigue

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Humanized Form, thank you for the link to the article on Eggleston. That was an entertaining read. I could almost hear his Southern lilt while reading his answers to the interviewers questions.

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Eggleston's one of my photo heros; had not seen this article before but enjoyed it a lot !

Thanks Kevin

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