Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare

ex-5-3-brief

Behind the Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare image

I have to be honest, I don’t think that Cartier-Bresson’s photography is some of the best I’ve ever seen; granted it is noteworthy, poignant, iconic, graphically intriguing, masterfully and cleverly composed (not to mention the fact he was lucky enough to be sent to some incredible places at incredible moments in modern history from which he could get some incredible photographs). Undoubtedly, he has created some of the most iconic images of the last century, there is no denying that, and his often misunderstood decisive moment ethos is pervasive as it is wonderful (however much I feel that it is like listening to the same old record over and over again – as explored figuratively and tangibly here).
And yet, there are many other photographers besides Henri Cartier-Bresson that I would rather continually talk about (as seems to be the case with Expressing Your Vision) and who are (arguably) just as important if not more so than Cartier-Bresson. Hmm, let me think, people such as: Steiglitz, Strand, Riboud, Sieff, Weston, Adams, Frank, Bourke-White, Margaret Cameron, Erwitt, Capa, Callahan, Evans, Brandt, Kertész, Winnogrand, Minor White, Model, Siskind, Moholy-Nagy, Rodchenko, Sherman, Man Ray, Arbus, Weegee, Lange, Salgado, Eugene Smith, Fontana, Doisneau, Ronis, Haas, Vivian Maier, Wall, Sugimoto, to name just a few that popped into my head, (I am aware that many of these aren’t Cartier-Bresson’s contemporaries nor photojournalists).

I have mentioned (what seems like a lifetime ago) in a previous exercise (The DM) how the iconic and brilliant image taken at Gare Saint-Lazare has become – possibly ironically – the epitome of his decisive moment. Do we really believe him when he tells us that this shot was just luck, (L’amor de Court) and that he, “…couldn’t see a thing through the view finder.” as I have already observed before with Me and The Decisive Moment? I am inclined to agree with David Manley who, in a recent interview, perceptively points out how, Lucky captures are arguable as you need to be shooting to achieve them.
Whether or not Cartier-Bresson purposely intended the shot or not takes absolutely nothing away from the fact that it is a truly amazing capture. He was once again in the right place at the right time, and with the right frame of mind, the right preemptive intelligence (and technique) to be able to get the shot however blindly he shot it: he famously says it was just luck, but his vision (or ‘photographic eye’) certainly wasn’t lucky – “it” knew exactly what it was doing and what was about to happen. This is surely a very long way away from the concept of luck however much Cartier-Bresson would mischievously have us think otherwise.

ex-5-1-hcb-image-2
The clearly obvious ‘pivotal point’ of this image that the eye seems to be drawn to is the shoe/boot’s imminent splash (orange edit above); the undeniable fact that that foot is going to plunge into the water. I love the course notes’ way of putting this type of feeling or effect (p110): “Perhaps there is a kind of ‘eternal return’ within an image…” (something looked at with Ex 1.2).
It almost hurts looking at it: it seems to beg closure – to scream out at us to be concluded, resolved, but it never will, it is frozen here for ever: entropy eternally abnegated.
There is no doubt the foot did actually touch the water – that’s a given going by the reasonably well documented and universally accepted laws of gravity and not to mention the first and second laws of thermodynamics – but this picture just does not allow that given to happen: we are stuck here, feeling dizzy and disoriented, looking at the denied action as we are denied confirmation of our expectations. It’s unreal how unsettling it makes me feel – I like that feeling though: it proves that I do feel! But this picture remains unsolved, a mystery, terra incognita, an infinite interim, and frustratingly beautiful.

Something that has always bothered me about this shot, is wondering how deep this flooded area actually is. Looking at the detritus on the floor around the wooden pallet or structure that he is jumping off of tells us that it doesn’t seem to be too deep: the pallet isn’t submerged, the ripples seem disturbed by possible objects close to the surface, and the plastic/metal strips and piles of earth all seem to be sitting on the floor (all of which, including the leaper’s reflection, add a gorgeous graphic – almost abstract – feel to this shot). The wooden planks to the centre-left of the picture suggest that the water is just a puddle as planks like that would surely be ineffective in deeper water and would float away?
Anyway, that’s besides the point; the man wouldn’t be jumping to his death we can presume. Or maybe he was? Were the Nazis there in 1932? Didn’t they invade a few years later? I digress.

I have no idea how Rinko Kawauchi’s (sweet) Illuminance cover image has anything to do with Cartier-Bresson’s 1932 image or even the remotest idea how to “contextualise my discussion” above either using her photo. Why do I need to? The same goes for (almost as popular as Henri) Hiroshi Sugimoto’s (beautiful) Theatre series, how can his images help me to contextualise my observations made here? Could I use their work as some sort of sheer, extreme comparison for my comments? Why? What would be the point of that, I wonder? Surely any random image would do if that were the case?
One thing is sure, I will be studying and looking for inspiration from Kawauchi’s work for assignment 5 as she enjoys the use of sequences, and cycles in her work which is something I am planning to do with that assignment (and, presciently, with Sugimoto’s work too).

Moving on, I remember how interesting it can be to look back on one of my own  photographs from the past with new eyes, as Pico Iyer reminds us quoting Proust that “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new sights but in looking with new eyes.” (Iyer, 2016). I really enjoyed this very useful and reflective exercise for the research point from Imaginative Spaces so I thought I would try it again here as suggested above in the brief.

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Grandville, 15/02/2009
1/60 sec at F/2.8, ISO 80, Panasonic Lumix FZ38, 5mm (27mm Eq.).

There is no tension, or imminent ‘dread’ to this shot, although there is a decisive moment here, I believe. The woman’s stride marches through my frame (I was trying to get the reflection of the lights in when she appeared from the right); the welcome inclusion adds a balance to the image, but the relevance here is how her handbag fits snuggly into the shadow/reflection of the  chairs behind her and just to the left (although, I find that most people don’t seem to even notice it), and, how her stride is nicely frozen.
The interesting thing here is that back in the day (2009), I was shooting almost exclusively in the ‘intelligent auto’ mode and relied on the fully automatic functions of the camera and its nifty algorithms so I had no say here in the autofocus point(s) or in when the autofocus would lock and shoot (I never really knew about presetting the focus point and holding focus by depressing the shutter button – those things came later).
Here then, is a fine example of chance, or as Henri would say “luck”.

ex-5-3-me-2
Racing Past a Window, 01/01/2010, 1/640 sec at F/3,3. ISO 100, Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5, 28mm.

With this shot (taken with my first real decent digital camera) I asked the kids to run past me a couple of times (they are family) with my mind on grabbing them and that much more interesting wall and window.
There are some similarities here with this shot and Cartier-Bresson’s Saint-Gazare shot, namely that they are both black and white; and the rather lucky catch of the suspended child (in first place) pulling us nicely out of the frame to the left, and the equally lucky (and splendid in my view) child’s face looking curiously over at me: all of which are good examples, I believe, of luck, in the Cartier-Bresson sense of the word and we could even stretch to say that they are two good examples of the decisive moment (or decisive moments).


Kev Byrne 1971. (2016). An Interview with David Manley. [online] Available at: https://kevinbyrne1971.wordpress.com/2016/09/21/david-manley/ [Accessed 16 Oct. 2016].

Kev Byrne 1971. (2016). Me and the Decisive Moment. [online] Available at: https://kevinbyrne1971.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/me-and-the-decisive-moment/ [Accessed 16 Oct. 2016].

Kev Byrne 1971. (2016). A3 Adjunct. [online] Available at: https://kevinbyrne1971.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/a3-adjunct/ [Accessed 16 Oct. 2016].

Kev Byrne 1971. (2016). Cartier-Bresson: L’amour de Court. [online] Available at: https://kevinbyrne1971.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/cartier-bresson/ [Accessed 16 Oct. 2016].

Kev Byrne 1971. (2016). Project 2 – Exercise 1.2 Point. [online] Available at: https://kevinbyrne1971.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/project-2-exercise-1-2-point/ [Accessed 16 Oct. 2016].

Iyer, P. (2016). Transcript of “Where is home?”. [online] Ted.com. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/pico_iyer_where_is_home/transcript?language=en [Accessed 19 Oct. 2016].

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2 thoughts on “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare

  1. Good analysis here. I am not entirely convinced by HCB telling us this was a lucky shot. I am reminded of Gary Player’s quote (or Tom Watson’s or Ben Hogan’s or … ) “The more I practice, the luckier I get”

    Liked by 2 people

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