L’amour de Court documentary about Henri Cartier-Bresson
The first time I ever saw a portrait of Cartier-Bresson (taken by George Hoyningen-Huene in 1935), I remember thinking what a moody and arrogant looking person. How misleading can our own interpretations of a photograph be? Or how right? This young, blonde, evidently good-looking photographer was certainly a difficult character to deal with (Papageorge, 2011, p36), apparently often returning back from his assignments empty-handed as he hadn’t found any inspiration (Ingledew, 2013, p89). However, he was anything but arrogant as we can see from the L’amour de Court video: an intelligent, determined, and an incredibly sensitive and humble man, as well as being arguably one of the most important photojournalists of all time.
The documentary is an extremely pleasant and insightful journey, and so much better than the ‘painful’ interview I’d watched earlier between Charlie Rose and Cartier-Bresson. Although having some insightful moments such as – “You mustn’t want, you must be receptive.”, it really is a mismatch of personalities filled with Rose’s annoying questions that often dismiss the answers and totally miss the point of who/what Henri Cartier-Bresson was: just a normal, intelligent and sensitive human being; granted, he was gifted and perceptive on many levels, but he was just a normal man. It’s almost as if he refused to glorify his own work reducing it to mere “luck” and pointing out that one of the few things that interested him about photography was, “…the aim, the taking aim.” (Berger, 2013, P140), and how “La form prim.” – “Form comes first” (18:26). His notion that (his) photography was simply a case of, “Sensitivity, intuition…a sense of geometry, that’s all there is to it.” (21:36) is echoed by Clarke (1997, p207): “Time and again he achieves this sense of balance, but he does so in terms of an almost intuitive approach to his subject.”
This refusal can be seen by his almost vehement anti-intellectualization of his work throughout his life. Julien Levy mentions how Cartier-Bresson “…wouldn’t be drawn on a theory of his art”, and how Cartier-Bresson’s idea about photography was “…rude and crude.” (Jeffrey 2011, p154).
It makes me wonder then: was he just winding people up when he told them that he never took this or that photo (1:07:22), or that he couldn’t really see the scene captured and was simply lucky (as with the Gare Saint Lazare shot, or the Cardinal Pacelli picture too)? Was it just so this sensitive man could ridicule, or move away from the accolades, the oppressive attention and intellectualization of his work?
Towards the end of the video (1:05:06) whilst Cartier-Bresson was looking through the selection at the National Gallery’s “de Menil Collection”, his reactions to some of the inclusions say it all; the faces of the people and particularly the incredulous look of the woman curator that tells him that he is too harsh on himself regarding his work, show us how ‘difficult’ and feisty he could be. Papageorge reminds us that Cartier-Bresson was fierce, as well as being “…known for his bad temper…” (Papageorge, 2011, p36). Levy notes that Cartier-Bresson was “sincere and modest” (Jeffrey, 2011, p154) and we can definitely agree by watching the documentary, L’amour de Court. He displays a wisdom and awareness that are both intense and calm, something I find attractive and compelling.
Cartier-Bresson mentions how he has this feeling of always being like a prisoner on the run (YouTube video part 1 04:44); that comes as no surprise seeing as he seemingly not only ran from his bourgeoise origins looking to find himself (Papageorge, 2011, p30), but he also ran and escaped from his captors three times during the second World War (Ingledew, 2013, p89).
Interestingly, the fact that the photo that inspired him to become a photographer (Ang, 2015, p205) by Martin Munkácsi also depicts people running, albeit for entirely different reasons, is compelling and suggestive. Equally fascinating is how the translation of the French title for his 1952 selection of photos Images a la Saunette became “The Decisive Moment” in English (Jeffrey, 2011, p160). Curiously, Ingledew (2013, p89) puts it as “Pictures on the Run” which would have worked well with Cartier-Bresson’s feeling of always being on the run. I suppose we’re all running from something.
A truly beautiful and revealing documentary of one of the most important, and fascinating photographers of the last century.
References and sources
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Clarke, G. (1997). The photograph. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Jeffrey, I. and Kozloff, M. (2008). How to read a photograph. London: Thames & Hudson.
Bate, D., Photography: The Key Concepts, Bloomsbury Academic, 2016
Papageorge, T., Core Curriculum – Writings on Photography, Aperture Foundation Inc, Honk Kong, 2011
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here, S. (2014). 17 (More) Lessons Henri Cartier-Bresson Has Taught Me About Street Photography. [online] Eric Kim. Available at: http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2014/12/09/17-lessons-henri-cartier-bresson-taught-street-photography/ [Accessed 26 Apr. 2016].
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