Archive for Henri Cariter-Bresson

I Took A Picture At The Garry Winogrand Exhibition To See What The Garry Winogrand Exhibition Looked Like As A Photograph

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 24, 2014 by johnbuckley100

Garry Winogrand

The Garry Winogrand exhibition at the National Gallery of Art is a stunner, the best photography exhibition in D.C. since the Andre Kertesz show in 2005.  It’s a very well-thought through combination of Winogrand’s iconic images, some of the pictures he took in his final years that he never even had the patience or interest to review, punctuated by a filmed interview from 1977 that so perfectly captures the man and his approach that it’s worth the price of admission.  (Okay, so admission’s free, better to say, worth the effort to get to the National Gallery of Art.)

They couldn’t have been more unalike as people, but the exhibition makes one realize that in many ways, Winogrand was our Henri Cartier-Bresson.  HCB was an aristocratic French communist, as reserved and formal in his Surrealism-influenced compositions as the Bronx-born, deliberately informal Winogrand was outwardly, and in every way, sloppy.  But Winogrand’s images of America in the ’50s-’70s are every bit as iconic as HCB’s images of Europe, Mexico, and Asia between the ’30s and the ’60s.

See Winogrand’s photograph of the man flipping in the air in the streets of New York.  Then look at HCB’s man leaping across the puddle.

In Winogrand’s image, the man’s foot mirrors the bird’s wing on the billboard; in HCB’s image, the man’s movements mimic the dancer on the poster.  Did Winogrand mimic HCB?  We doubt it — much of what we know about Winogrand, from reading and from the show, would suggest he was too into the moment to have a formalist’s composition in mind as he squeezed the shutter.  And yet is the image the equal of HCB’s?  Maybe not, given that Winogrand was drawn to theatrical and staged events, and HCB seems to have captured his “Behind the Gare St. Lazare” from pure happenstance.  But it’s a great picture.

Winogrand’s dictum — “I photograph to see what the world looks like in photographs” — is as important an influence on succeeding generations of photographers as Cartier-Bresson’s notion of The Decisive Moment.

The show gives a wonderful sense of Winogrand’s larger-than-life personality, his sheer voraciousness as a photographer in his prime, the intelligence that bristled when he took pictures, even as he denied there was a real intelligence at work.  His was a very ’60s philosophical attitude, eschewing meaning from the photographs other than a meta consideration of the photographs as more than the events they depicted. “How do you make a picture that is more interesting than what actually happened?” he asked, sincerely, which is the photographer’s equivalent of Philip Roth asking how it was possible for fiction to keep up with the absurdity of the world, circa 1968.  When the events in life were so over the top, only a true artist could exceed them.

Winogrand’s ability to fit everything into the frame was both his strength and weakness. So much of what he captured with his machine-gun overshooting of everything he observed was perfect, and so much was excess, in need of cropping, that you begin to realize that out of the hundreds of thousands of pictures he took, these mere hundreds in the exhibit represent a frustrating ratio.  In Winogrand: Fragments From The Real World, MOMA photo chief and Winogrand champion John Szarkowski writes with ill-hidden frustration about Winogrand’s indiscipline, the pictures compulsively taken in his final years that he barely even bothered to have developed.  The responsibility for someone else to have to sort through them all was too much even for the man who, through his including of Winogrand in photography’s pantheon, helped make the case for him as more than a street photographer.  And yet the greatness of this show, and the excellent monograph that accompanies it, is how well the two aspects of Winogrand’s art — the incredible energy of events squeezed in the frame, even as later in life he seemed less inclined to push for absurdism and meaning — are reconciled into a whole.  Not coherence, perhaps.  But the life’s work of a troubled and brilliant artist.

The show at the National Gallery has all the great pictures we remember, and it reminds us of how things looked in the NYC of our youth, of how LA looked when we first saw it in the early ’80s.  That his appetite for life seemed finally to run out of energy, even as he compulsively snapped away, takes nothing away from Winogrand’s importance.  It’s a great show.

The Decisive Interview: The Two-Part Post On Cartier-Bresson That Sums It All Up

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on June 21, 2013 by johnbuckley100

The New York Times’ Lens Blog is one of the great daily reads, a public service to those who care about photojournalism and photography.  Yesterday, the Lens Blog published the first installment of a previously unpublished interview with Henri Cartier-Bresson.  This morning, they published the second installment.  If you only ever read one thing about the great master’s views on photography — in fact, if you only ever read one essay on photography — this interview would be a good candidate for the essential distillation.  It’s the Decisive Interview, as it were.

The back story is lovely.  In 1971, Cartier-Bresson sat for the interview with Sheila Turner-Seed, who died in 1979, though not before giving birth, a year before her passing, to a daughter.  Many years later, the daughter found the interviews her mother conducted, and heard, for the first time, her mother’s voice.  The interviews will be included in a documentary film Rachel Seed is producing about her mother.

The interviews are marvelous — a distillation of what we know about Cartier-Bresson, from his lack of interest in gear to his aversion to color photography.  (“Color is bullshit,” he famously told William Eggleston — but here, just a few years before he said this to Eggleston, we learn more about why he felt this way. It seems he found color distasteful, among other reasons, because the process of getting true color prints involves too many other factors, and too many other people.)

His reason for using a 50mm lens is fascinating, to us at least, and puts him implicitly at odds, we’d say, with Alex Webb, who is perhaps the only modern photographer who has an HCB-quality of Surrealist juxtaposition in his very complicated images: “It corresponds to a certain vision and at the same time has enough depth of focus, a thing you don’t have in longer lenses. I worked with a 90. It cuts much of the foreground if you take a landscape, but if people are running at you, there is no depth of focus. The 35 is splendid when needed, but extremely difficult to use if you want precision in composition. There are too many elements, and something is always in the wrong place. It is a beautiful lens at times when needed by what you see. But very often it is used by people who want to shout. Because you have a distortion, you have somebody in the foreground and it gives an effect. But I don’t like effects. There is something aggressive, and I don’t like that. Because when you shout, it is usually because you are short of arguments.”

Perhaps of greatest interest to photographers is a little more detail he offers indirectly on his concept of the “the decisive moment.”  He spelled some of this out in the essay introducing the book published in the U.S. with that name.  But at a moment when Gary Winogrand — who took tens of thousands of pictures, and famously died with thousands of images in unprocessed film cassettes — is being celebrated with a traveling exhibition at major museums, there is this admonition from Cartier-Bresson about waiting for that right moment to snap the single, essential picture:

“It’s a question of concentration. Concentrate, think, watch, look and, ah, like this, you are ready. But you never know the culminative point of something. So you’re shooting. You say, “Yes. Yes. Maybe. Yes.” But you shouldn’t overshoot. It’s like overeating, overdrinking. You have to eat, you have to drink. But over is too much. Because by the time you press, you arm the shutter once more, and maybe the picture was in between.

“Very often, you don’t have to see a photographer’s work. Just by watching him in the street, you can see what kind of photographer he is. Discreet, tiptoes, fast or machine gun. Well, you don’t shoot partridges with a machine gun. You choose one partridge, then the other partridge. Maybe the others are gone by then. But I see people wrrrr, like this with a motor. It’s incredible, because they always shoot in the wrong moment.”

Winogrand certainly didn’t always shoot in the wrong moment, but so many of us do, especially given how easy it is to load an SD card with photos.  We know from other stories how HCB would sit at night, rolling his own film into cartridges for use the following day.  Each single image had value.

There is so much more there, distilled in a single pair of  posts — Cartier-Bresson’s affinity for the Surrealists, and the advice he got from Robert Capa not to talk of this, but to instead, for career reasons, describe himself as a photojournalist; his troubling conclusion that when it comes to being a good photographer, you either have the gift or you don’t; the radical simplicity of his approach wherein he never really even felt the need for a light meter.

This interview is of value to anyone who cares about photography, and the work of one of the 20th Century’s greatest artists.

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