A Man with a Gift

Over at The New York Times’ Lens blog they have excerpts from a series of 1971 interviews of Henri Cartier-Bresson done by journalist and filmmaker Sheila Turner-Seed. It’s an interesting look into one of our heroes thoughts. (There’s a part two, don’t miss that.)

I am wrestling with some of his thoughts and comments, though. I have always admired his work, but he’s a surrealist working with a camera in an era when surrealism wouldn’t pay the bills. Me, I’m a modernist and, while I love his work, occasionally I see that his thought processes and mine are just very, very different. His thoughts on captions, for instance:

Well, I don’t want to say anything. It’s as if you invite someone for dinner and serve wine in a decanter instead of the bottle with the label. People should guess if it’s a good wine. But no, they want to see the label. This is awful. That’s why there shouldn’t be any captions. People should just look. We should awaken our sensitivity. But people don’t. If it’s in a decanter, they won’t dare say it’s a good wine or it’s a bad wine because they haven’t seen the year. They don’t know which chateau. That’s what I resent. I think photographs should have no caption, just location and date. Date is important because things change.

It’s hard to wrestle with who your heroes are and who you want them to be.

Either you have a gift or you have none. If you have a gift, well, it’s a responsibility. You have to work.

Mark E. Johnson

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