EDWARD DIMSDALE talks about Henri Cartier-Bresson:
anyone with a serious interest in photography,
the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson is simply unavoidable.
One can catch echoes of his influence almost everywhere
One of the first photographers I assisted owned
an immaculate first edition copy of "The
Decisive Moment". I can remember stealing
time from the darkroom with the express intention
of trying to unlock the secrets contained within.
Like a sorcerer's apprentice on a distance learning
course, I would return time and again to pore
over the formal beauty of the compositions snatched
from chaos, marvel at the luxurious weight and
sooty texture of the gravure pages, always hoping
against hope that by somehow scanning the pages
over and over there would be some kind of alchemical
change in me brought about by the work of the
master magician. His photographs were the touchstones
for my own first, clumsy fumblings with a camera,
and they continue to exert an influence to this
Although it is not Cartier-Bresson's most universally
recognized image, "Ile de La Cite, 1952"
is my favourite. The whole scene is suffused with
melancholy. An autumnal mist diffuses what I imagine
to be an early morning view across the Seine towards
the island of the title, where the river is forced
to fork either side of an embankment. A little
boat bobs across the dappled water. There is an
almost-but-not-quite symmetry to the composition.
And there, at the centre of the picture, gathered
by a tree, is a little huddle of figures, right
at the apex of the embankment. They appear to
be wondering which fork to follow. Should they
take the left? The right? No matter that either
direction will ultimately lead them to the same
destination. They have been frozen at the point
of choice. Cartier-Bresson once again shows how
a two-dimensional representation of the exterior
world can elicit emotion because of the way that
it reflects our interior world. We face our own
choices everyday. Everyday we have to choose which
fork to follow. And we do so with the knowledge
that we, too, like the river, are ultimately headed
for the sea.
For me, "Isle de La Cite, 1952" epitomises
Cartier-Bresson's deft balancing of eye and heart
- a beautiful, formal, organised composition,
with at its centre, a little huddle of humanity.
Edward Dimsdale, London, July 2003