Influences - Henri Cartier-Bresson


Portrait of Henri Cartier-Bresson

As with any artist or creative person, I've been influenced by many great photographers, both living and dead. In the months and years to come, I will write about some of those photographers who have inspired me and my craft.

Without a doubt, the one photographer who has inspired me most and whom I've admired since I was a boy, is Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Henri Cartier-Bresson developed a style and an impressive career that is unparalleled in the world of photography. He spent his entire career shooting only 35 mm black and white film with only a few different focal lengths, most often preferring to photograph the "normal" view of a 50 mm lens. He began his artistic life studying painting, when he learned to see artistically and mastered not only light but composition with the dimensions of 35 mm film most closely matching the golden rectangle and the Fibonacci spiral. Keep in mind, his career began at a time when "serious" photographers only shot with large and medium format cameras. 35 mm was typically only used by hobbyists for snapshots. He transformed photography by making it much more portable and discrete, and embodied the spontaneity of photography, even coining the decisive moment. Having these skills and vision, Cartier-Bresson approached not only his street photography to capture moments unlike any other photographer but also to create much more meaningful and intimate portraits. It is his portraiture that inspires me most of all.

The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Beyond the simplicity and clarity with which Cartier-Bresson formed his unique style, I'm inspired by his devotion to it. Throughout his life, the opportunity to explore other formats, to enter the studio, to play with colour, and to fill his camera bag with a wide variety of gear was resisted. He felt that the simple format, monochrome image, and intimate daily approach was best suited to himself.

All proceeding photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson

It was every aspect of Henri Cartier-Bresson's photography which inspired me as a teen, and continues to inspire me to this day. I also find inspiration in the many famous quotes from him.

"Sharpness is a bourgeois concept."

“For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity.”

"Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst."

"We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter the memory and diminish the clarity of the whole."

"As far as I'm concerned, taking photographs is a means of understanding which cannot be separated from other means of visual expression. It is a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one's own originality. It is a way of life."

"To photograph: it is to put on the same line of sight the head, the eye and the heart."

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© 2016 Tony Holtkamp.