Using one image that you feel is representative of the work of a particular photographer, movement or genre, contextually deconstruct the image, in an objective and considered way.
The image I have chosen to contextually deconstruct, is one photographed by Henri Cartier- Bresson. This image was taken in 1969 it is named Sidewalk Cafe, Boulevard Diderot, Paris. To discover the socio-cultural identity of Henri Cartier- Bresson, an exploration into his history must be undertaken, to determine the attitudes and outlook that influenced his thinking, understanding and perception, which can be leant from the social and cultural group to which he belonged.
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Henri Cartier Bresson was born in the 1900’s and was raised and grew up during the age of the bourgeoisie. A Period in time that lasted for around a century and a half, Bourgeoisie translated means city dweller, this was considered a social class. Henri Cartier Bresson captured many great images that symbolise this time period during his life. Paris at that time was the city of it’s age, the 1900’s, incredible wealth, incredible beauty, incredible art next to incredible poverty and bohemianism and a complete reworking of social moray’s.
Henri Cartier Bresson was primarily a photojournlist who was most concernered with time and timing, his photographic fusion of form and content was groundbreaking. His images captured the moment, they are unplanned, this was made obvious when he publisised his book “The Decisive Moment” in which his introduction stated “i craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes”. Henri Cartier Bresson decided what to take a photo of, what elements to exclude and what angle to frame the photo, and these factors may reflect a particular socio-historical context.
In the 1900’s, World War I, was beginning, in the northeast of France, by 1918 the war was over and the Versailles Treaty was signed, the period between World War I and World War II was a time of Depression which lasted almost ten years, this was also the time of the avant-garde movement, in which France played a leading role, which brought artists, musician and filmakers worldwide, to France. The Avant- garde movement was a time in which boundaries of the norm in society were pushed. Henri Cartier Bresson was born into this world, being the eldest of five children and having a wealthy upbringing, he had the option of succeeding his father’s business, however Henri Cartier Bresson held a existentialist view, which meant that he believed he responsible for giving his own life meaning and living his life passionately and sincerely. Many people had this view as it was the time of existentialism. For Bresson it ment persueing his own dreams and passions instead of being duty bound to his father’s company. Henri Cartier Bresson influencer was his uncle, who was a painter, that died during the first World War, when Bresson was a mear age of five. Henri Cartier Bresson mentioned in an interview, in the year in which he died, “my uncle, by being a painter, represented freedom to me”. Bresson’s uncle represented bohemianism.
Bresson was primarily a painter until he became inspired by a photojournalist from hungary, Martin Munkacsi. Munkacsi captured an image called Three boys at Lake Tanganyika, after seeing this image, Bresson was entralled, and took his camera and began image making himself, mainly in the streets. Bresson began working with a Leica, which he apparently painted black as to disguise it. this gave him anonymity in a crowd and he was able to capture more intimate shot’s such as the one he capture above, the couple outside a cafe, probably had no idea they were actually being photographed. Street photography is a type of documentary photography that features subjects in a candid situation, it is like holding up a mirror to society.
This particular image that I have chosen I feel is a fair representation of his work, it captures the “decisive moment” attitude. It perfectly capture’s the Parisian cafe culture. Philosopher Josef Peiper said “leisure is the basis of culture”. The French cafe is as much a part of the culture of France as wine and cheese. This image captures a sterotype of France, the cliche black and white striped shirt, the Cigerette, and of course the beret. Even nowadays a trip to Paris, will almost always involve, french cafe culture, no matter which area of France a person goes to. Cafe culture is still a prominent leisure activity in France today.
Henri Cartier- Bresson being a documentary photographer, photographed significant and historical events, he took images across the world in the beginning of his career, until doing extenstive work on the street’s of Paris. Being brought up in a bourgeoisie society, where many people dwelled in cities, could have been part of the reason why Bresson entered the world of street photography. Bresson would have been considered fairly wealthy, in that era, simply because his was born into wealth, this gave him the oppurtunity to pursue his career in photography and the arts, which may not have been made possible otherwise. Bresson also had an full and beneficial education, attending university, and doing his mandatory service in the French Army. Bresson matured both artistically and as a man during a turbulent cultural and political era, which reflects in many of his images because of his documentation, of the world’s great events during his lifetime, such as Gandhi’s funeral, the final stage of the Chinease Civil War and many other great historial events.
Bresson has a skill at envisaging an image, even when simply walking through the streets of Paris, his compostion is second to none, the rule of third is a compostional technique, captured in most of his images seems almost flawless. The fact that his camera is hand held, he manages to capture images, without camera shake, with good compostional skill, with the lighting being natural and without the subjects even realising they are being photographed. Once a subject realises they are being photographed they become far more formal and adapt and unnatural behaviour. The fact his subjects are completely unaware of the image being taken, makes his photographs far more pure and untainted and therefore even more spectacular. Especially so in this image, the couple being photographed are kissing, and are clearly unaware, if they were, this image would have lost its natural beauty, because the image would have been posed for. The small camera Bresson used when taking this specific shot, gave him the ability to get very intimate with this couple without there knowledge. For Bresson the street was his studio
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Susan Sontag a philosopher argues, “To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneââ‚¬â„¢s self into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge, and therefore like power.” Bresson managed to do this with such ease, and elegance, his perception of the world was captured through his camera, which was basically an extension of his eye. Although Bresson’s images are influential even in today’s society, it can be argued that the way in which he took his images, violated social norm’s. However, this could be deemed acceptable considering he was living during a time of bohemian revolution whereby the norms in society were being pushed anyway.
The fashion captured in this image is a perfect example of the time period. The strippy black and white shirt is not just a sterotype of France, it was the dress that middle class parisian’s wore. The sterotype of a person riding a bicycle through the streets of Paris, selling bread, garlic and onion is also somewhat true, it was the uniform the seller’s wore, but became fashionable and other’s began wearing it. Another example of parisian’s pushing boundaries of the norm.
Bresson was the co-founder of a company called Magnum photo’s, in which he himself as well as his co-founders began a project whereby they went out and took a series of images there project names were “People live everywhere, Youth of the World, Women of the World and The Child Generation”. The aim of the organisiation was to use the photographic medium as a service to humanity. Being a street photographer Bresson captured specific images of the time and the fashion and the attitude Parisian’s had. The fact that Bresson capture images that were publisized at the time could have been what influenced society, because it is not just society that influences a person, a person can influence society.
The image I chose represents Bresson’s work well because it gives an insight into how exactly he created and captured the image and also gives an example of some of his greatest street photography, as well as proving that Bresson socio-cultural identity does effect his work in many ways. He photographed very ordinary thing’s for the time period, but because they are documenting an era, it makes them timeless.
The world in which Bresson has been raised and brought up in, definitly is apparent in his images especially those taken in Paris, his native country. This exploration into Bresson’s past and subsequently his image making proves that a his upbringing and the social climate in which he existed made an impact on his work, and lifestyle.
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