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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

 

Adieu, Henri

HBC's Isle de la Cité
Henri Cartier-Bresson died today at age 95.

HBC was one of the truly great photographers of the Twentieth Century, and like most anyone who ever held a 35 mm camera to his eye, I looked up to him.

"The decisive moment" is the phrase most associated with Cartier-Bresson, and for good reason. He seemed to know exactly when to click the shutter. He could detect that scintilla of time and space where people and expressions and dogs and whatever came together to form a fleeting image of maximum impact. And that's what he captured, maybe better than anyone. As he himself put it,

"What is best in photography is that you are catching an instant that will disappear. The photographer is like the voleur, the thief; he steals a moment, a fleeting moment and then he runs away with it in his camera. Being a photographer you have to be quick, quick, quick; you have to be like quicksilver, yes, like a tightrope dancer with death at the end.”
As a young amateur photographer, especially once I bought a 30-year-old Leica IIIc in 1973, I often tried to be HCB. I did actually take a few good B&W shots in his style, but basically, I'm too slow and fumble-fingered to be even a journeyman street photographer. I am too photographically meek to be the voleur.

Oddly enough, my favorite Henri Cartier-Bresson photo is not a "decisive moment" image at all. Rather, it's HCB's famous picture of Isle de la Cité in Paris.

There are two reasons, I like this photo so much. First, to me, that quarter-acre or so of the Isle that we see here is the one of the most magical place I've ever experienced. I can't quite explain it, but it was love at first sight for me when I walked to this end of the Isle on July 21, 1977 (exactly one year to the day before I met my wife!)

Second, and it's only within the last few months that I understand this, HCB's photo, taken in the mist, hides the background clutter of the rest of Paris and only shows the very essence of Isle de la Cité, with the Pont Neuf worn like an elegant stole over its shoulders.

I'm very happy he lived a long, full life. Who says only the good die young?

Comments:
Hi Steve, thanks for posting the comment on my blog. I added a new page today with one of my photos. I took a peek at your work on your web site. I'm very impressed.

Regards,

Warren
 
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