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Street Photography of Henri Cartier-Brensson

Updated on August 24, 2014


CC BY-SA 2.0
CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

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

Although Cartier-Bresson gradually began to be restless under Lhote's "rule-laden" approach to art, his rigorous theoretical training would later help him to confront and resolve problems of artistic form and composition in photography.

In the 1920s, schools of photographic realism were popping up throughout Europe, but each had a different view on the direction photography should take. The photography revolution had begun: "Crush tradition! Photograph things as they are!"[citation needed]

The Surrealist movement (founded in 1924) was a catalyst for this paradigm shift. Cartier-Bresson began socializing with the Surrealists at the Café Cyrano, in the Place Blanche. He met a number of the movement's leading protagonists, and was particularly drawn to the Surrealist movement's linking of the subconscious and the immediate to their work.Returning to France, Cartier-Bresson recuperated in Marseille in late 1931 and deepened his relationship with the Surrealists.

He became inspired by a 1930 photograph by Hungarian photojournalist Martin Munkacsi showing three naked young African boys, caught in near-silhouette, running into the surf of Lake Tanganyika. Titled Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika, this captured the freedom, grace and spontaneity of their movement and their joy at being alive."Wikipedia

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a French photographer who is considered to be the father of photojournalism.

His street photography remains to this day an example that is not only followed by many but emulated in all its facets.

He had a methodology that although strict and unwavering, can still be used for guidance when one decides to take up street photography.

But street photography is not the only theme can benefit from his style.

There are many other styles such as architectural and portrait photography that can be emulated to fit his style of photography.

He is said to have basically followed ten basic rules when he approached a subject he became interested in and in his general overall photographic style and seldom or almost never deviated from them.

NOTE: the photographs used in this article are representative of Henri Cartier-Bresson's style and not his own work.

Bresson integrated vertical, horizontal, and diagonal lines as well as curves, triangles, circles, and squares to his advantage.

He also paid particular attention to frames as well as shadows. He not only sought out man made structures but paid attention to any naturally occurring shapes a well and composed the image to capture them in a way that they became the focusing pints of most of his work.

Another of his methods was to keep moving on; in other words once he captured an image of a subject he simply moved on and "forgot " about it. This had the effect of always encouraging him and making him start a new search for yet another new subject and over the years his work numbered in the thousands.


CC BY-SA 2.0
CC BY-SA 2.0 | Source

Have you taken a look at Henri Cartier-Bresson's work

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He was also a proponent of taking the right picture and taking nothing less. He often said that although many scenes presented themselves spontaneously he often had to be patient and wait for the right moment to snap the shutter.

If he was not satisfied with a particular shot and if all the components as per his taste were not just right he would simply discard the photograph and move on. The photograph had to be perfect in every detail or it was thrown away.

Bresson was also a strong proponent of traveling in order to get "new slices" of life from many other places. You can take photographs of your neighborhood or location but traveling helps you discover new scenes like nothing that can be found by simply staying in one place all the time.

When he ventured to foreign lands he usually stayed at that location for about a year and only moving on when he was satisfied that there was nothing else for him worth capturing on film.

The right time

CC BY-ND 2.0)
CC BY-ND 2.0) | Source

Bresson used several lenses when on assignment but his preference was mostly a 50mm lens and this was the lens he most always used when working for his own personal pleasure.

He contended that since the 50mm was the closest to what the human eye sees, his camera and this lens were basically an "extension of his eye".

Using one main lens most of the time helps you develop an artistic vision which when mastered can be used with other lenses.

If you never use one lens on a regular basis but instead change from lens to lens every time you tend to lose sight of the composition of the scene and focus too much on the reach or capabilities of the lens. The lens dictates how the scene will be captured instead of you.


CC BY 2.0
CC BY 2.0 | Source

Probably because Bresson first started out as a painter, is that at a later age he renounced photography and dedicated the rest of his life to painting. Yet from his methods we can learn to see pictures as if they were paintings and it is advantageous to study many different painting styles.

See how a painter sees framing and how they compose the scene, how details are turned into scenes with a brush; how they translate what they see into a work of art.

To Bresson aesthetics was a principal concept and he always demanded its highest levels in all of his photographs.

Bresson never cropped an image. If he had to crop he would do it with the lens. If you tend to rely too much on modern cropping techniques you can become lax about how you compose an image simply because you develop the " I can fix it later" mentality and your composition will undoubtedly suffer as a result.

Above all Henri Cartier-Breson keep on trying to get better and better. Even if an image was lauded by many as being a great one, his way of thinking demanded that he was to get an even better one.

You should always stride to do your best and when you have a good picture, try not to settle on it. If you can try to get an even better one.

He also loved to take photographs of children since their images were good at invoking feelings of nostalgia and times gone by simply because of their inmate innocence but with every picture that Bresson took he was always careful to be as unobtrusive as possible.

Even today most children even if they are aware of the photograph, sooner or later tend to just ignore his presence and this is when the best pictures are created. He was always searching for the candid shot and his people images reflect this.

He did not like for his subjects to pose for him. He preferred a natural look and pose from all of his subjects whenever he could or he would simply not take the picture at all. It is said that it is from his strong demand for a natural, un-posed look that today's street photography style and approach was born.

© 2014 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Nadine May; Thank you

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 

      5 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Interesting indeed. First time I read about photojournalism. The pictures speak for themselves. Nice hub.


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