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SCL Photo Podcast 20: HCB's Tete a Tete Book Review

SCL PodcastHenri Cartier Bresson, father of modern photo-journalism and master of photography. In this episode I take a quick look at his collection of portraits, Tete a Tete.

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Show notes:

Featured Posts:

Video interviews with Photographers.

Photowalk 47 - Autumn.

Book Review : Henri Cartier Bresson "Tete a Tete"

Video review of Tete a Tete.

Article and short slide-show of images.

My Notes:

Tete a Tete Potraits by Henri Cartier Bresson, Published by Thames and Hudson, Published 1998. (This edition 2000).

I'd like to start with a quote from HCB, that's right at the front of the book: "Photography is an immediate reaction, drawing a meditation"

So, the act of taking a photograph only takes a fraction of a second, but if the image is strong enough, people could look at the resulting print, or on a screen, for many times that, and HCB was a master of that art of photography.

HCB, born 1908, died 2004, is seen my many as the father of modern photojournalism. Prowling the streets of Paris, and then all over the world, looking for what he described as "The Decisive Moment" when all the parts of a scene would come together, and that's' when he would capture his image. He described it by saying "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," but you have to be quick, because "Once you miss it, it is gone forever."

Mainly using a 35mm Film Leica Range Finder, HCB was able to take candid photographs of every-day life, as well as the rich and famous. As a founder member of the Magnum Photo Agency, with Robert Capa, David Seymour and George Rodge, HCB achieved recognition all around the world for his work, but he seems to have rejected most interest in himself as a personality.

But this book isn't about his street photography, it's about portraits. All in b &w, they have a quality and presence that is immediate. No matter who the subject, the viewer can feel a connection, imagine they've learnt a little about that person in the photograph, almost like a conversation with no words.

The subjects include, in no particular order, photos from his early work in the '30s, right through to the 1990's. Most are of famous people, but not all. What is surprising is the variety of composition, light and poses of his subjects. Some are formal, but in most it's like a pause in a conversation, a gap for a few seconds before we continue a fascinating discussion. In other photographs its like we've walked in on a scene, HCB has snapped an image at the perfect time, then moved ob, leaving the people to carry on with their lives. Magical.

HCB (I think is using natural or existing light in these Photographs. No multiple flashes, reflectors, bounce cards or diffusors. I guess these are portraits as a photojournalist would take them, raw and sometimes unflattering. It's surprising that some of the photographs HCB chose for this collection are quite blurred - but the over-riding factor is the moment, for example the look of love the Duke of Windsor has as he gazes at Mrs Simpson, or the challenging stare of Truman Capote.

My favourites? The ballerina Svetlana Beriosova as she fixes her hair in a mirror, taken in 1961. Marilyn Monroe, an amazing shot taken in 1960. Marilyn seems to be sitting in a studio, looking serene as strangers peer at her over a partition.

This is the sort of book you can look at again and again. It would have been nice to have a little more context, or background about the people photographed, who they were, where the picture was taken etc, but we have the Internet for that if we want to delve deeper.

HCB was not a fan of colour film, but what wonders what he would have made of the new cameras from Nikon & Canon that can shoot in extremely low light levels, using available light, and come up with high quality images?

Maybe with these high-ISO cameras we'll see some photographers moving away from having to control the light with numerous flashes and reflectors, and return to a more natural style - where the subjects can move around their environment freely, allowing the photographer to chose the time of his exposure based on the decisive moment, and not the limits of his or her equipment.

So, Tete a Tete by HCB, an excellent book, well worth buying, and if not order it from your local library as I did, and study a master at work.

Technique challenges (No Time Limit):

No Sky Landscapes

Fill The Frame!

Dawn / Dusk shots

A Landscape Style Shot With Strong Foreground Interest

Remember to email me your photos if you'd like to me work on them for the Photo Workbench.

To contact me, just click on the link near the top of the page under the big picture.

Thanks for listening, see you on Flickr!

Join the Flickr Group!

Cheers, Rob.

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