If you are into photography at least a bit, most likely you have read about Henri Cartier Bresson, and the definition, through which he has described the philosophy of his work:
“To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”
While the underlying philosophy was formulated in the 17th Century, HCB has been thrown into photography after he has abandoned the study of painting, and was looking to find a stimulus that would clarify his interest in life. The image which made him understand, that a camera could bridge his aesthetic and social interests, was a photo by Martin Muncacsi “Three Boys at Lake Tanganiyka”. Apparently, it was the only photograph that has ever adorned the walls of his apartment.
HCB has bought his first Leica camera in 1931. What ensued, has been the most important body of photographic work of his time. In fact, he has been dubbed: “The eye of the 20th Century”. His style, later called “decisive moment photography” can be intuitively recognized by a confluence of compositional harmony, and human presence, often caught in the midst of an important event or an expressive gesture.
All reporters and street photographers who came after HCB have been influenced by him. Even today, you will find multiple photo groups on Flickr, dedicated to the decisive moment photography. When I started shooting with a rangefinder camera, and eventually bought a Leica as well, the temptation to step into HCB’s shoes was too big to be resisted.
This led to the development of DMCR (decisive moment conditional reflex), where a street scene reminiscent of one of HCB’s images would spur me automatically into compulsive action, or where a compositionally interesting background would freeze me for several minutes, with the camera ready at the eye, waiting for some human event to unfold, and “trigger” the picture.
I can’t help to like street photography, harmonious compositions and shooting people. While I am certainly grateful to HCB for how his art has enriched the world, I have realized, for today’s photographer it has become a burden you have to shake off, or at least relax substantially, if you want to find your own expression.
Some escape into ugliness or banal framing, others voluntarily create an impression of random timing. I find it intuitively more natural, to look for photographs that above all tell you stories. But, perhaps, our photos are simply not good enough?