Henri Cartier-Bresson; Can Anybody Take Photographs?

There is a quote from Henri Cartier-Bresson where he states “Anybody can take photographs ……It is precisely because our profession is open to everyone that it remains, in spite of its fascinating ease, extremely difficult."

(from Henri Cartier-Bresson: Interviews and Conversations 1951-1998; an Aperture Publication).

 

TOM's take on the H.C.B. thought: 

I have been fortunate to have been making images for a long time and given some amazing books on photography and some wonderful ones that deal with aesthetics and quotes that allow me to think critically and in depth about the images that I have made and continue to make. 

I think about this often, there are approximately 1.8 billion digital images uploaded every day.  That’s an extremely large number to “sift” through on a regular basis, if you are prone to doing those things.  It’s difficult when everyone has access to something that will record their every whim, move or motion.  I guess that I question the “why” behind these 1.8 billion images.  Is it because we want to be recognized, because we want out 15 seconds of fame, because we want someone to “like” what we post, because we don’t know what else to do with them, or is it because we truly care about recording the events that we see, hoping that one or two might, in some small way, change the way people view each other or approach the world?  I can only hope that a fraction of these will remain with us, have the ability to change the way we approach others, and move us to be more human, more personable.  I think it is the obligation of those of us who consciously make images to understand this.  For some, it’s a job, for others, an avocation, and for others still, a means of expressing what it is we see and feel inside.  I think those who are committed, make art because we have to make it, for without the ability to do so and express ourselves visually, we might die. 

 

I love the medium, I love the way a beautiful print feels when I see it or when I can hold it in my hands.  There is something magical about taking what we “see” and allowing it to be come tangible proof of that experience (even though it really will never compare to actually being there and experiencing things in person).  Our ability to share the personal experience, the magic of being there “in the moment” is nothing short of fantastic.  It’s what I do live and breathe for, for without that chance to share, I feel empty.

 

Eric's take on the H.C.B. thought: 

Is photography (the process) really open to everyone? 

Bresson’s quote was simply some passing conversation during an interview when it was published back in the 1950’s.  There is no way H.C.B. could have envisioned the levels that photography would be taken - a very fast 60 years later - with the help of metastasizing technological leaps.  

Lets fast forward through history and not dwell on cameras as a objects, their subtle model changes, film transport mechanisms, lens styles or metering systems.  I can assume, since you are here, that you are somewhat studied in the history of photography and are able to discern a plate camera from a rangefinder and an SLR from a digital compact.  (I will also bank on the option that you understand modern day Instagram filter-culture as a mere, blind shortcut/homage to film stock choice - whereas we used to pick with great care which film we were to use for the job or the day, based on the lighting we were using and maybe - and this is a big one here - which actual, real, glass, screw-on filter may be applied to the lens.)

For 50 years, advancements in films and electronics and increased affordability slowly pulled cameras from studios and out of journalists camera bags - and tossed them into the hands of everyone - even children could make images quickly and affordably now that these developments made image making free to all.  

Photography (as they knew it, when H.C.B. was interviewed then) had been around for about 100 years.  By that time photo work had progressed from a chemically based scientific experiment to a hobby and profession.  Cameras had gotten smaller, faster, and easier to operate.  Funny thing is, nobody cared back then what camera they used so long as it was comfortable and just worked.  The reasons that so many “photographers” venerate their gear today are varied and ultimately, laughable.  Capa liked Contax.  (You can google this and settle the debate over whether Rob shot a Leica or not.)  Bresson liked Leicas for a number of reasons but could really use anything.  

Some consideration must be taken into account for the timing of this quote, too.  The mid-50’s was the host to a major tech race between the big camera corporations.  The Nikon SP was available - some say the greatest camera ever made.*  The Leica M3 was also available which just about everyone else thinks was the greatest camera ever made.*  

(*FOR THE TIME.)

So, now the PHOTOGRAPHIC TOOL was in the hands of most everyone who could afford a one, and that wasn’t everybody, for sure.  Everyone also had drivers licenses and cars.  And most could read and write and owned pencils and sheets of paper.  But people were still crashing their cars and very few folks could claim themselves novelists simply because they possessed the tools.   

Let’s press the Camera fast-forward button - sheet film cameras, 35mm bodies, twin-lens reflexes, rangefinders, single lens reflexes, point and shoots, disposables, disc cams, digitals, phones.   In that order. 

How does CB’s quote apply today?  Because today, everyone is a photographer.  Literally everyone.  Because everyone has a phone.  

There are multiple camps here - there are still serious image makers who do support themselves with real revenue they earn applying their skills and talent - studio shooters, journalists (with wi-fi cards, of course).

There are the relatively naive I-bough-a-camera-at-Best-Buy-and-now-I-have-a-photo-business folks (taking shots of their friends in the grass and against poorly lit trees).

There are Spec-Tyrants who absolutely refuse to own a camera for more than a few months because something newer and faster with a fancier name has just been released onto the market, thus rendering every single camera ever made before then completely obsolete and embarrassing.  (Also, *Collectors) (*Those who don’t really make images)

And then there are the social media phone photographers. 

This appears to be a pretty narrow simplification of a very complicated world of media and marketing and I’m sure you’re wondering what the point is here.  So I’ll say it - just because you bought something doesn’t mean you will be good at doing that thing.  You’ll probably be terrible at it.  Because making a process easier does not hustle up better results.  There are major differences between ease and efficiency.  These are two separate worlds.  

Now nobody can just proclaim themselves to be a doctor.  You own a toothbrush but you are not a dentist.  You own tools but probably cannot diagnose and fix your car.  You’ve eaten in restaurants but can never really make it taste like it did when you make it at home - right?

See what I’m getting at here?  You can buy the stuff but you can’t buy the talent.  You can’t buy the heart.  You can’t purchase a ticket to be in the right time at just the right place.  Digital photographs have replaced the act of documentation and large scale every day photography is now some kind of weird hybrid human reflex.  

Why do you need to take a phone shot of your dinner? 

Why do you need to take a video every single sunset you see? (Happens 365 times a year)

Why do you need to watch a live concert/lecture/event behind a screen when it’s actually happening RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR EYEBALLS?

When do you back up your digital images?  Have you ever? 

Where do you save them? 

Do you ever print them? (Or do you toss them onto social media like tossing water into the ocean? 

Can you remember your top favorite phone photos you shot just this past year? 

Does submerging your recently-dropped-in-the-pool phone in a bag of rice bring back your digital files?  (Why is this even a thing?)

A camera is a dead machine.  It will only do what you make it do.  Clacking the shutter does not stand in or replace your brain, your eyes, your surroundings, experience, emotions, cultural references, respect, aptitude, timing, luck, attitude, or skill.  It’s just a button.  You see - when nearly all of those things are combined is when a great image is born. It takes a whole lot of things to happen for a great image - and we’re not talking post-processing yet.  

Digital photography is great.  Phone photography is great.  Film photography is great.  All photography is great.  And it all seems very, very easy.  It’s the most fascinating thing you can possibly imagine - it’s like vastness of space, childbirth, the feeling you get from a first date and the sadness of death all in one.  What else in the world, in the most simple form, can house the entire scope of human emotions, can freeze time, can pretty much live forever and do all of this without ever saying a SINGLE WORD?  

Photography. 

And everyone can do it.  But not everyone can do it well. 

 

 

 

Ben Shahn; Primary Concerns and Recognition.

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