Henri Cartier-Bresson, Behind Gare St. Lazare, 1932

“The difference between a good picture and a mediocre picture is a millimeter,” said Henri Cartier-Breson in the documentary, “Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment.” And he knew exactly how to achieve that difference.

The father of the photographic style described as the “decisive moment,” Cartier-Bresson’s method was straightforward and brilliant. He sought to almost instantly and instinctively detect a perfect geometry in what he saw, a “structure of sensuous and intellectual pleasure and recognition of an order that is in front of you.”

A decisive moment photographer works impulsively, with few rules. Cartier-Bresson explained, “How many pictures should you take a day? There is no rule, it’s an instinct.”

Though instinctive and decisive when shooting the world around him, Cartier-Bresson discussed the more difficult task of portrait photography, calling them “the most difficult thing for me.” In the documentary he recalls a portrait session with Ezra Pound in which the two sat for over an hour just looking at one another. Cartier-Bresson took only 6 shots of Pound. In a portrait he sought not just to capture the person’s expression, but the significance of that expression.

Despite a few challenges he faced with his art, Cartier-Bresson had a simple philosophy about the thing that consumed his life: “Photography is a physical pleasure, it doesn’t take much brains, it takes sensitivity a finger and two legs.”

Put simply, he was a natural.

 

 

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