The photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson are something I will travel to see. I went to New York on my birthday two years ago just to see a huge exhibition of his work at the International Center of Photography.
Today however, I just had to walk down the street. The Art Institute of Chicago has been exhibiting a very interesting collection of Cartier-Bresson’s work through next week. I just made it.
Cartier-Bresson actually began his artistic career as a painter, studying under André Lhote in Paris. When he obtained his first Leica camera, his artistic path changed for good. Spending time with other artists and poets of the day at the Parisien cafés, soaking in what it was like to discover what moved them. Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso and other photographers Brassaï and André Kertész, influenced and inspired each other. The Art Institute exhibit included works by all of these artists side by side. It was easy to see what a profound effect they all had on each other. Incredibly inspiring.
Perhaps that’s what continues to draw me back to Paris again and again. Walking the same streets as they did. Following the footsteps of Cartier-Bresson, past his home on Rue de Rivoli overlooking les Jardins des Tuileries in the center of Paris. Feeling the good artistic ghosts brush past me.
It makes me wonder whether years from now there will be talk of a little band of artists that took their first artistic steps in Chicago, exhibiting together, discussing their work, their passions. Steve Diet Goedde, Ken Keirns, Mark Munson and Billy Sheahan. Who knows?
I was looking for a little inspiration today. Sometimes when I feel artistically adrift I find it good to look at photography by my influences. Recharge the batteries. Follow their struggles and triumphs.
In Cartier-Bresson’s own words:
‹‹L’appareil photographique est pour moi un carnet de croquis, l’instrument de l’intuition et de la spontanéité, le maître de l’instant qui, en termes visuels, questionne et décide à la fois. Pour « signifier » le monde, il faut se sentir impliqué dans ce que l’on découpe à travers le viseur. Cette attitude exige de la concentration, de la sensibilité, un sens de la géométrie. C’est par une économie de moyens et surtout un oubli de soi-même que l’on arrive à la simplicité d’expression.
Photographier : c’est retenir son souffle quand toutes nos facultés convergent pour capter la réalité fuyante ; c’est alors que la saisie d’une image est une grande joie physique et intellectuelle.
Photographier : c’est dans un même instant et en une fraction de seconde reconnaître un fait et l’organisation rigoureuse de formes perçues visuellement qui expriment et signifient ce fait.
C’est mettre sur la même ligne de mire la tête, l’œil et le cœur. C’est une façon de vivre.››
The rough English translation…
“For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. In order to “give a meaning” to the world, one has to feel involved in what one frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry. It is by economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression.
To take a photograph is to hold one’s breath when all faculties converge in a face of fleeing reality. It is at that moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.
To take a photograph means to recognize – simultaneously and within a fraction of a second– both the fact itself and the rigorous organisation of visually perceived forms that give it meaning.
It is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same axis.”