Wait for It
Patience is a game Cartier-Bresson
played all over the world. He must
have sat for countless hours waiting
for just the right subject to appear.
Somedays the pictures came together
and other days they remained blank
Preface to the book “I Tempi di Roma” (Edizioni Bolis, Italy, 2000) written by Henri Cartier-Bresson. It reads “Time runs and flows and only our death can stop it. The photograph is a guillotine blade that seizes one dazzling instant in eternity.” Henri Cartier-Bresson.
On this auspicious Friday 11.11.11, I wanted to give you a few pictures to think about over the weekend. As many street photographers know, good images take time. The special element that takes a picture from being an ordinary street scene to a masterful composition is usually one person. Our work is not rehearsed, we are forced to wait for the magical moment. The Italian archives of Henri Cartier Bresson show us that he was plays a waiting game with his subjects. Sometimes he wins, others he loses. His dedication brought him back to the streets everyday, until he beat the odds. Have a look at a few of these pictures to see how Cartier-Bresson works.
The light on the floor is ideal. Its set on the diagonal, all he needs are the kids to be in the right place. But it never quite comes together. ITALY, Rome. 1959. Henri Cartier-Bresson
This is the same scene, from a slightly different angle. The only difference is the girl is perfectly composed. He nailed it! ITALY, Rome. 1959. Henri Cartier-Bresson.
All the elements are in place, but the design feels flat. The railing, the kids, the background, everything is too square to the lens. But…ITALY, Rome, Trastevere. 1952. Henri Cartier-Bresson
Same photograph as above, but he loses the distracting crowd in the background and swings to the right, cutting out the dark wedge on the right. Bingo! ITALY, Rome, Trastevere. 1952. Henri Cartier-Bresson
This is almost a classic Cartier-Bresson image. There is great variety in the figures, but there are just too many of them. He knows he almost has something, but there is too much contrast and too much activity. ITALY, Abruzzo, Scanno. 1951. Henri Cartier-Bresson
Once again, he cleans up the scene, waits for good variation in the figures and BANG! He wins again. Its worth nothing that Cartier-Bresson is rarely concerned with catching facial expressions. He does it sometimes, but nine times out of ten the design of the figure is the most important element. ITALY, Abruzzo, Scanno. 1951. Henri Cartier-Bresson
This must have been a practice photo or a test to see if the scene alone was strong enough. ITALY, Tuscany, Livorno. 1933. Henri Cartier-Bresson
How does Cartier-Bresson always manage to find a single man on a bicycle? And can you find the Surrealist Element in the picture? ITALY, Tuscany, Livorno. 1933. Henri Cartier-Bresson
See if you can play Cartier-Bresson’s composition game.
- Find a strong city or landscape scene.
- Make sure there is good lighting in the area where you would like a subject to appear.
- Be sure to set a path for your potential subject on a major diagonal or a major reciprocal.
- Then wait for the picture to come together.
If you need a little inspiration have a look through the Magnum Archives of Cartier-Bresson in Italy.