Sunday, 31 August 2008

Profile: Henri Cartier-Bresson

By the Marne River, 1938 - Image by Henri Cartier-Bresson

After a break last month, the blog’s photographer profile series comes back with one of photography’s most important characters. This photographer has been influential in the taking of images and the thought processes/philosophy behind the camera. We are, of course, looking at the one and only - Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Henri Cartier-Bresson was born on August 22nd 1908 at Chantheloup, Seine & Marne in France. He was born in a wealthy Norman family who had major interests in the textile business. Henri's education was quite extensive with him painting at Cambridge for one year and studying with the cubist Andre Lhote. He travelled extensively, going around Europe, The United States and Africa. During this period of his life, Cartier-Bresson was a painter. ‘Before I met Robert Capa and David (Chim) Seymour, I didn't know any photographers’ he once explained ‘ I was living with writers and painters more than photographers’. This varied artistic background provides the explaination why Cartier-Bresson was so influential in photography. He wasn’t just interested in photography but had many other outlets for his creativity. It is rather ironic then, that Henri Cartier-Bresson's name will be forever connected to photography, a medium that he took up with an artistic curiosity and a surrealist attitude.

By the time that Cartier-Bresson had met David 'Chim' Seymour and Robert Capa, he had had work exhibited in Mexico and Madrid. The early 1930’s marked the birth of photo-journalism. The politics of the day were varied, and often extreme. The birth of the popular front in France also coincided with that of photo journalism. The left bank cafes of Paris during the 1930's were arenas for passionate debates on political doctrine. Cartier-Bresson has stated that when Capa, Chim and himself talked in the Café du Dome it was NEVER about photography… always about politics. Magazines had started to pick up on the political changes going on in France and elsewhere in Europe. These magazines were important instruments for persuading the masses about political issues and making social comment on how people lived. Photography was used to educate and the photo-journalism was the perfect method to spread the message. It was an exciting period for photography that was to be interrupted by the breakout of war in 1939. Henri Cartier-Bresson was drafted into the French army in 1939 and served as a corporal in the army’s film and photo unit until he was captured in 1940. He was sent to Germany, ending up as part of the slave labour force working in a factory. During his time as a prisoner of war, he attempted escape three times, only being successful on the third attempt in 1943. Getting back to Paris, Henri joined the resistance where he formed a covert photographic unit to document the German occupation. To avoid the attention of the Gestapo, Cartier-Bresson would pose as an absent minded painter who only had time for his painting.

After the liberation of Paris, Henri was able to work on a number of projects including photographing General De Gaulle’ parade through Paris and a film called ‘Le Retour’, a documentary film about the liberation of the concentration camps. It was during this time that his famous ‘ unmasking of a collaborator’ was taken. Later Cartier-Bresson would disclose that he wanted to return to painting after the war but had felt that he needed to witness and record the events in the world with something quicker than a brush. Like Robert Capa and the other photographers who were to help form Magnum, Cartier-Bresson had been immensely frustrated by the lack of control over his work. In 1947 Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, David ‘Chim’ Seymour and George Rodger started the Magnum agency; each of them assigning a part of the world that they would cover. Ironically, Henri had been in the USA just a year earlier,coming across to finish a posthumous exhibition started when the New York museum of modern art believed he was missing, presumed dead. The early post war years saw Henri Cartier-Bresson travel through China, India and the Asia. After extensively travelling he returned to work in Europe during the early 1950’s. A trip to the Soviet Union was organised in 1954, although Henri was limited in what he could take due to the nature of the regime there. For the next twenty years, Cartier-Bresson continued to travel, taking images in Japan, India and Cuba but in 1966 he made the decision to leave the Magnum photo agency. He did agree, however, that the agency should still distribute his work to the press Film. A number of exhibitions and commisions followed, including a couple of films for the CBS in the United States.

All throughout his career, Henri Cartier-Bresson remained as much a philosopher of photography as he was an actual photographer. His decisive moment philosophy has become an important part of photographic theory - simply put the decisive moment is an exact timed moment when the photograph will work at its best. "Photography is not like painting," Cartier-Bresson told the Washington Post in 1957. "There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative," he said. "Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever." In 1973, Henri decided to concentrate on his drawing and painting but he continued to take images throughout the rest of his life. He died in 2004 at the age of 95. His legacy is one of the most powerful of all the pioneering photographers. His images still retain a fresh and dynamic look all these years later and his photographic philosophy is still followed and practiced by many photographers... myself included. Henri Cartier-Bresson remains popular all these years later and he currently has several books of images and writing in print. For me though, his most revealing thoughts about photography hit directly on why i make photographs. Two reflect my thoughts about photography and being a photographer perfectly.

'We photographers deal in things that are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished, there is no contrivance on earth to bring them back.We cannot develop and print a memory'.

'As far as i am 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 originality. It is a way of life'.

All Images by Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • Top left - Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1972 - Image by Martine Franck/Magnum
  • Middle right - Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 1958
  • Middle left - An informer is reconised by a woman she has denounced: Dessau, Germany, 1945
  • Bottom right - Behind the Saint-Lazare station, Paris, 1932
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Saturday, 30 August 2008

Cowboys and Indians

Street performers in York entertain the crowds

The shot above was taken today in the centre of York. The diversity of entertainment on the city's streets is superb. The band were all dressed in their colourful costumes and played wonderfully atmospheric music to a big audience. It was a pleasure to just stop and watch them for ten minutes. It made me wonder whether we need some crumby TV show on British television to prove that Britain has got talent! Go onto the streets of York (and most British cities) and you'll find it.

The Indians were great but the trip to my 'favourite' photo retailer proved (yet again) a 50% failure. They had the film developer (which contradicts what they said back in October 2007 when i asked for some) but NO 120 film archival storage sleeves. Frustrating to say the least. I found it equally amazing that one member of staff should recommend to me that i order the item online.

This isn't exactly the best way to keep a shop open on the high street; when customers can bypass the shop floor and order things online. Cut the shop staff out of the equation and what's left for them to do. No wonder they closed so many shops with the loss of 550 jobs last summer. Just keeping a few items in stock would make a whole lot of difference.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Morris major

Music for the Morris dancers - Sheringham, Norfolk

I don't often post portraits but this one works really well. It was a candid shot taken at the Lobster Potty Morris dancing festival held in Sheringham, Norfolk. Morris dancers, from all over the UK and Europe, come to display the various styles of dancing at the festival which has been on the calender as an annual event since 1994.

Sadly, i can't remember where in Britain this accordion player and his Morris dancer mates came from, but you have to admit that he certainly looks the part. There is almost a rock'n roll ethic to Morris dancing; it attracts a certain type of person who doesn't want to conform to the norm. I rather admire them. They enjoy what they do and they have a sense of purpose - to carry the traditions of Morris dancing onto the next generation. Most of all they have fun - you don't see many miserable Morris dancers. Would i have a go? Hmm.... if an offer came in at the right time and in the right place... yes i probably would. :-)

I do like the more relaxed 'documentary' approach candid photography offers. It's becoming far more acceptable as people move away from the posed look of the sat portrait; I've noticed that I'm increasingly asked to photograph people using candid portraiture when working on commissions. Capturing them 'doing what they do' seems to be becoming much more fashionable these days.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Blogged award



The blog has been awarded an 8.1 score at blogged.com. Below are the details of the criteria used for the review scoring.

Our editors recently reviewed your blog and have given it an 8.1 score out of (10) in the Entertainment/Art category of Blogged.com.
This is quite an achievement!

http://www.blogged.com/directory/entertainment/art

We evaluated your blog based on the following criteria: Frequency of Updates, Relevance of Content, Site Design, and Writing Style. After carefully reviewing each of these criteria, your site was given its 8.1 score. Please accept my congratulations on a blog well-done!!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Review: Tamrac Pro 12

The Tamrac Pro 12 camera bag

Last year, i posted a review for the Tamrac Pro 8 camera bag that i purchased as a smaller, more portable equivalent to my Billingham 445. At the time, i also decided to buy the larger brother of the Pro 8 camera bag, mainly due to the great design and layout of the bags. This is the review of that larger bag - the Tamrac Pro 12.

The first thing you notice about the Pro 12 is the vast amount of storage space - there are places and pockets for virtually everything. This makes it far easy to find those small items of photography kit that otherwise might become lodged at the bottom of a camera bag. It was this 'organised' look of the bag, that made me want to buy it; someone had obviously thought about how to layout the bag for maximum efficiency. Compared with the Billingham 445, the Pro 12 offers a far easier storage option for items like memory cards, batteries and filters. Finding items like these quickly can often mean the difference between capturing an image or missing it. Locating items is easy and made all the more straight forward by the clear windowpane-mesh pockets. Tamrac have even included some red flaps that can be pulled out to help a busy photographer identify full and empty memory cards at just a glance. If extra room is required, Tamrac offer the Strap Accessory System (SAS) which adds more storage space via pouches on the strap. Film and memory card pouches are just some of the accessories available.

For camera equipment storage, the bag is very similar to the Pro 8. A series of flexible dividers make up the bag's compartment, so that a vast range of equipment can be stored safely. The Tamrac Pro 12 is specifically designed for use with digital or 35mm camera systems but you could, with a little work, use it for medium format. The bag has plenty of depth which is ideal for those with big pro camera systems who find other bags lacking when it comes to storage space. There is plenty of depth for large camera like the Canon EOS-1D mkIII or Nikon D3. Owners of smaller cameras like the Nikon D300 or Canon 5D will find that they have plenty of room. The bag can easily carry two SLR bodies with plenty of room for lenses and a flashgun; I carry five lenses in the bag but there is room for at least another two or three lenses if necessary. Does the bag interior offer the same level of protection as a Billingham bag would? Well no, but the dividers do provide a good level of protection from everyday wear and tear without the weight of the Billingham system. Access to the camera equipment is fast and secure, with two fast release clips for the top and two for the side. A zip fastener, with a storm flap, makes sure that the rain cannot get through to any equipment. During my trip to Norfolk, i was caught in a downpour of heavy rain which tested the bag's waterproof capabilities to the maximum. I was soaked through to the skin, and the bag had water literally pouring off it, but the equipment remained dry inside. Personally, i would rate the Tamrac Pro 12 alongside the Billingham bags for repelling water and keeping gear dry.

Overall i would recommend the Pro 12 if you are looking for a lightweight, modern camera bag that can protect your equipment thoroughly. I would say that Billingham's do offer a higher degree of protection, but that is reflected in the higher weight and price of the Billingham. In an unloaded state, i would estimate that the Tamrac Pro 12 would weigh around a third less than a Billingham 445. This is down to the Ballistic Nylon and Polytek material used in the bag's construction; the metal rings used on the bag are constructed to tight military specifications. This is one TOUGH bag considering the light weight! For a working photographer the Tamrac Pro 12 is ideal. Durability, great design and light weight are just some of the benefits to using this bag. Add the fact that it can hold its own against heavy rain and is easy to carry - i would say it was must have - especially if you already own a Billingham and need a lighter bag for those long distance photographic treks. I purchased my Pro 12 for £90 but i have seen them online for under £80 so it is worth shopping around. For the money, I don't think you can buy a better bag.


Saturday, 23 August 2008

Olympic best

Michael Phelps (C) of the U.S. swims to a world record and gold medal next to Nikolay Skvortsov (R) of Russia and Takeshi Matsuda (L) of Japan in the men's 200 meters butterfly final at the National Aquatics Center during the Beijing 2008 Olympics August 13, 2008. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

The Reuters news agency have put together a number of great slideshow galleries containing images from the Beijing Olympics captured by their team of photographers. The highs and lows of going for gold have been beautifully captured by the Reuters snappers.

Have a look at this great gallery HERE

Reuters also have a superb news images section featuring photographs connected to stories currently in the news.

Click HERE for the news images section

Photojournalists tale

Medic with kitten © Zoriah/www.zoriah.com

This is a relatively new blog for me but one I've found fascinating. The blog features images and stories by a working photojournalist currently embedded with troops in Iraq. His personal viewpoints on that part of the world are rather interesting and well worth a look. Check out this superb blog at http://www.zoriah.com/

Friday, 22 August 2008

Print punch

Too contrasty or about right?

There's lots of great photography on the internet but a number of very good photographers seem to be let down with poor black and white image quality. I could mention a few photographers (but i won't) who have popular blogs, where the quality of the black and white work is let down by flat tones.

It's not a problem with the photograph itself, creatively the image framing and composition is usually superb. No, it's a problem with the overall contrast of the image. Basically the image is flat. Very flat in some cases, and with hardly any contrast, the image lacks sharpness, clarity and most of all....punch!!!!

Some of you who visit the blog may think that my black and white images are too contrasty. It's all down to personal taste in the end, however, i do believe that the best way to judge how to get a great black and white print is to look at other black and white prints. Doisneau, Cartier Bresson, Capa, Salgado are just a few of the image makers who have influenced my print making. Borrow some ideas from your favourite photographer and you can't go far wrong.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Mind's eye

A sunbather - Sheringham, Norfolk, UK

This is an quick observation shot which took less than a twenty seconds to see, compose and shoot. The last thing i wanted was for this man, who was obviously enjoying the hot sun, to get up and go. Fortunately he was too busy working on his tan and didn't move an inch from the position seen in the photograph.

I managed to spot him and sit on a bench that was conveniently located directly opposite where he was lying. It was just a matter of a quick look through the viewfinder, focus and click but i managed to pre-visualise the image before i took it. In the blink of an eye, i knew how i wanted the photograph to look, i could see the photograph and how it should look. I'm using this technique more and more frequently - especially when using large format cameras, and it find it works.

I used to hear a lot about the use of pre-visualisation in photography when i was at college. I thought it was rubbish at the time but it certainly seems to work for me at the moment. Just try it next time you come to take an image. See it in your minds eye, see how you want it to look as a finished photograph; the tones, the composition and framing etc. You'll be surprised how well it works!

Monday, 18 August 2008

On the square

Sheringham Beach, Norfolk, UK

Another of the Bronica 6x6 images. I have a fondness for the square format that probably harks back to my early photography years when i started to use the 126 film format.

The Hanimex 88x was my first camera, taking the 126 film cartridge which produced square negatives. The quality was great and i really loved the square photographs that little camera gave me.

Looking back now, I can see that the experiences of using that simple little camera helped me when it came to composing and framing images using the square format Bronica, some two decades later.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Keeping up

Pulling a fishing boat ashore - Sheringham, Norfolk, UK

Last weekend, i met up with my friend Matt who I've known since the early 1990's when we were at college together. We talked about our college mates, funny situations we remembered and then we realised how far things have come technology wise since we did that TV, Film and photography course.

Matt works in the video industry which has been as revolutionised by digital technology as photography has. Back at college in the early 1990's it was still videotape and film - Umatic or Super 8mm for videotape and 8mm for film. Now its digital hard drive recording and computer editing tools. For photography during the early nineties, it was just film. Digital was in its first stages of development, not really a viable tool in industry at that time and it was extremely expensive, so we were taught how to use the technology of the day. Things, since then, have moved on fast.

Both of us learned to use digital camera technology in the workplace, long after we left college. Even during the late 1990's, digital cameras were expensive and in short supply- film was still the main medium of choice. This was a transition period from film to digital. Within ten years the medium has reversed with some photographic students, it is often alleged, starting their degrees with NO experience of using film cameras. The only real education for the digital age i received during my years at college was for using Photoshop.... on an Apple Mac.

The digital camera isn't the BIG development of the last twenty years though. The Internet is. For the creative person it is the perfect way to get your work out into the world. We never saw it coming and yet it has significantly revolutionised the way we work.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Them or us

Rural scene near Burnham Market, Norfolk, UK

Oh dear. All this sport, politics and conflict have really got me mad lately. The hypocrisy of some politicians, Olympic organisations and countries is just breath taking. It's times like this, when you need a long walk in the countryside to forget about all the rubbish going on out there.

This is one of the first batch of shots taken with the Bronica SQAi. A great camera producing lovely 6x6 negatives. I decided to use Ilford FP4 with this camera for the majority of my photograph taking and I'm pleased i did. The image quality is just excellent. Although it was taken on Ilford film, the developer was by Kodak in the shape of TMAX developer. 8.5 minutes at 20 degrees C which is slightly longer than the 8 minutes recommended by Ilford.

I have loads more 120 roll film to process but i need to get some negative sleeves before i start on that little lot. The speedgrip/prism on the Bronica certainly changed the handling of the camera. Documentary images became possible so it'll be interesting to see how those shots turn out.

Running on faith

Lit prayer candles

I've always had an admiration for those people who have faith in their faith. Those people who have something to hold onto. I'm not a religious person but in this day and age, maybe we all should have some faith in something or other.

While I was visiting a church at Walsingham, i came across a young man of about thirty years of age, who to look at, you would have thought would have been more interested in computers than anything religious. He came into the darkened area where the prayer candles where placed, lit a candle and with it in his cupped hands, he prayed intensely for several minutes. It was a beautifully tender moment of personal reflection.

I just watched. Fascinated by this young man's demonstration of absolute faith. Stood there watching him, you realised that it was a timeless moment that any of the pilgrims from years past would recognise. The clothes may have changed but the sense of purpose does not. I wished i could have taken a photograph of this moment of remembrance but it would have been a gross invasion of this man's privacy. If only you could capture a moment with your eyes.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Pilgrim's place

The main street in Walsingham, Norfolk, UK

One of the places that i really wanted to visit this year was Walsingham which for centuries has been a place of pilgrimage. In the era of the Internet and digital TV, you would think that the time for people making religious journeys was long gone.. but you would be wrong.

The amount of people wishing to do a pilgrimage is a shock but not really surprising when you consider how fast we live our lives today. Many probably feel the need to escape from the pressures of modern day life. Whatever the reason, Walsingham remains a popular pilgrimage destination.

Walsingham was full of builders who were working on a big new accommodation centre for the large numbers of people wishing to stay during their pilgrimage or retreat. The sight of tanned brickies working as the nuns went about their daily business was quite strange.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Umbrella day

Sunny or wet? A colourful umbrella on Sheringham, Norfolk, UK

An umbrella can be useful on a British beach for keeping the sun off you or..., more likely, to protect you from the rain. This last few weeks has done nothing to change the perception that Britain doesn't have dry, hot summers, even though we had super weather back in June.

I rather like the touch of colour that this umbrella added to the seaside scene on a beach in Norfolk. We Brits do try hard to have a good time whilst on holiday, regardless of what the weather might do. Fortunately this umbrella was up to give some shade... and maybe some privacy.

The wet weather today provided me with an excuse to develop the stack of film shot during my time in Norfolk last month. All of the 35mm film has been processed along with a few rolls of medium format but a mass of 120 film remains. So far I'm pleased with the results.

I'll be posting some of the new images on the blog... starting tomorrow.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

In Consett

Crossing the road in Consett, County Durham - February 2008

Well the decision about the Leica R7 was made and..... i decided not to buy it. It was a lot of money for a camera that, although superb, was really doubling up on what my Nikon F3 was purchased for. How many cameras do you need? Not THAT many !

The image above was shot using the F3. It was taken in Consett in County Durham, which for years has been gradually recovering from the loss of the Steel plant that employed vast numbers of people in the town.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Like a Leica

Pepple beach at Sheringham, Norfolk

I spotted it in a camera shop window last week. A lovely, pristine condition Leica R7. A beautifully engineered camera that, if purchased, would last the owner a lifetime. It's the one Leica 35mm SLR that I've wanted to own since the late 1980's. I am tempted... but i keep on coming back to the same old argument against getting it which is... exactly how many cameras do i need???

It's getting tough to make a purchasing decision when it comes to buying any type of new camera. The digital market has just made it worse. Most manufacturers work on a two year cycle which sounds a long time, but film cameras usually had at least twice or three times that before a new model came out. Technology moves fast and the modern digital camera has a lot more in common with the computer world these days, than camera development of twenty years ago.

As for the Leica R7? Well, i may take a look if it is still there next week. The camera's price? Don't ask !!!
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