Hops and Millimeters

I will admit, there is this internal conflict when it comes to one of my photographic heroes, Henry Cartier-Bresson. The work, the elegance of it, the preservation of a moment in time … it resonates with me deeply.

But then there are pieces I read, interviews and stories, and I’m left wondering whether he was a charlatan of sorts. He was, at times, so dismissive of the craft, of the effort.

Lines like this, excerpted from a 1973 interview with Sheila Turner-Seed:

I see different things, I presume. But not more, not less. The best pictures in The Decisive Moment were taken right away, after two weeks. [ . . . ] That’s why teaching and learning don’t make sense. You must live and look. All these photography schools are a gimmick. What are they teaching? Could you teach me how to walk?

So, I’ll put aside my defensiveness because of my occupation and say I agree there’s a certain level of innate vision the best have. But that vision needs to be developed, it needs to be explored and prodded and poked at, it needs to be put in context and critiqued. A photograph is not an isolated thing, it is an arc that connects moment and the witness and the viewer, bringing them back to the moment.

Maybe it’s more of a circle. Hmmm … maybe there’s something in there to teach …

The precision of his work and the way he talks about it, that has always resonated with me:

The difference between a good picture and a mediocre picture is a question of millimeters, a tiny difference. But it’s essential. I don’t think there’s so much difference between photographers, but it’s that tiny difference that counts, maybe.

And the way he talks about watching a great photographer work, the elegance with which they move, I get that, too. There’s a fluidity we should all be striving for, the insert ourselves into the ebb-and-flow of life, to be swept along but at just the right distance to be able to see not just this moment, but how it connects to all the others.

As I said, I have some inner conflict.