Photography is a creative hobby for me. Once I began looking at the world through a viewfinder, I began to notice details. I look more carefully at the world as I walk through it. This way of looking deeply has influenced my attitude toward life. By striving to really see what’s before me, I live more in the moment.
While I’d love to call myself a photographer, I know better. I look at the works of masters, both contemporary and from the early days of photography, and I know I’m miles from mastery of the craft and just as far from the artist’s vision. Rarely do I see an image in black and white when I press the shutter. Sometimes, in an effort to improve a lackluster color photo, I’ll convert it to black and white. This rarely works.
I stare at those timeless images of Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange and wonder if starting out in a color paradigm stunts wannabe photogs. Perhaps color photography is like an automatic transmission: if you first learn to drive an automatic, it is much more difficult to master a manual transmission; likewise, photographers who start out shooting in color are distracted by the razzle-dazzle and fail to master the basics of design and exposure.
I recently stumbled upon a wonderful documentary on Netflix, Henri Cartier-Bresson – The Impassioned Eye, by director Heinz Bütler. The 2003 film explores the life and work of the renowned master of black and white photojournalism.
Cartier-Bresson, his breathing synched to Bach’s music in the background, peers puckishly over the top of one of his images, revealing just the top half of his bright eyes. “What counts,” he says, “is geometry and structure. Everything is where it should be. Geometry is the foundation.” From the body of work displayed in this film, Cartier-Bresson knew what he was talking about. There is structure in each of his photographs. He shot a wide variety of subjects, often in challenging situations. Yet his images are focused and properly exposed. And they all have structure. “When you hit the target there’s no need to crop the picture. Don’t over think it. It’s all in form.”
Mystery is another aspect that catapults his work into excellence. A shy man, Cartier-Bresson worked with his subjects, talking to them and asking provocative questions to divert their attention from the lens to the mystery of what was inside of them. His subjects are often gazing away from the lens. We wonder where their eyes are looking. What are they seeing? What are they thinking about? Isabelle Huppert, one of his subjects, explains that Cartier-Bresson “captures the moment just after speech, the moment just after movement.”
Says Huppert, “A great photo has a feeling of music to it.” Cartier-Bresson agrees, his eye’s blinking to the rhythm of Bach, “That’s sacred music. It has everything: life, death, everything. It is pure bliss.” The same could be said of his images.
There is mystery in the photographs of some of my blogging contemporaries, too. Take Dinkerson over at Dinktography for example. His images exude both simplicity and mystery. Who would abandon a piano like this? Who played it? What happened to the people who used to listen to the music that came from it?
I’ll keep working at my hobby. I’ll keep studying the mystery of the craft. I’ll keep my eyes open, roving, looking, seeing the beautiful and the mundane because all of it is life.