RIBOUD talks about Henri Cartier-Bresson:
is amazing how this man and his work are alike.
They forever rhyme.
If you meet Henri, even before saying hello he’s
likely to toss you his credo: “knowing how
to look can be learned, but it is a tough pleasure”.
He may add with a smile: “some never succeed”.
He never stays still, except when he draws. Then
he contemplates more than he looks. But his eyes,
I imagine, never stop moving, scrutinizing, seizing
details. And if you look closely at his drawings
they are inhabited with movement, even landscapes.
I have heard him more often speak of painting
than about photography. It was an obsession even
when photography filled his days from dawn into
An invisible force gave rise to his photographic
style: a tension, “l’instinct de l’instant”,
then a drive where his culture mixed unconsciously
and spontaneously with the learned rules. Those
rules could have stumbled into academic. That
is where his personality so strongly impregnated
his work. Tradition and conformism were never
his things. Henri the libertarian, the anarchist,
the Buddhist is the very opposite. “Vivre
la revolution permanente” is one of his
favourite mottos. But there is more: as a cultured
and politically engaged man, his life rhymes with
rigor and discipline. Yet he seems animated by
an extraordinary undercurrent. An undercurrent
often controlled, but which can suddenly burst
as a torrent. His indignations, revolts, angers
are known as well as his pace of life, his appetite
for culture, for all cultures, and the number
and quality of his friends, all around the world.
Is he everyone’s master? No, he would rather
be everyone’s friend.
An anecdote: In the early fifties I took Henri
to a station for a train to the south of France.
He took his luggage to his reserved seat, then
walked back down to the platform and told me with
a witty eye: “I am between a pretty girl
and a priest. Therefore I can sin on one side
and confess on the other”.
He did not report on the trip!
Henri Cartier Bresson does not like words or comments
on his photographs. He prefers to let us be carried
by the pleasure of the eye. But for Henri, pleasure
is not enough. The form and the structure of the
image are essential. If they are absent, whatever
the subject, there is no image. To check if the
composition is right, Henri’s advice is
to look at a photo upside down. This photo is
a splendid example. Once you turn it around the
subject disappears to let only the lines and the
curves draw an abstract and harmonious design;
a perfect composition emphasizing the movement
of a strange machine caught at the right place
at the right (decisive) moment. Now if you look
at the image the right way up, the pleasure becomes
greater when you understand where it comes from.
Riboud, Paris, July 2003
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