Cartier-Bresson and more

I’ve just been watching a BBC film from 1998, directed by Patricia Wheatley,  featured on the Petapixel blog.  Pen Brush & Camera has a lot of the then 90 year old photographer talking, which is interesting, and a number of people talking about their experiences with him or his work, which are rather more variable.

Like most TV programmes, at times it’s frustrating for those who know something about the subject, and there were many times when I would have like the interviewer to ask questions but she didn’t. But certainly the man’s character comes across well, as does the basic information you probably already know.

Seeing a TV film on computer is unfortunately not a good way to look at photographs, despite the efforts of the cameramen, and although Cartier-Bresson’s work is less challenging in this respect than much photography – he somewhere talks about printing and not liking deep blacks and only wanting the printer to respect the tones; the images are shown sadly lacking in both highlight and shadow detail. And even looked at in a relatively small window nothing in this YouTube version is sharp. Usually watching films I like to switch to full-screen, but in this case it was hopeless, and I soon reverted to the smaller image. There are quite a few other films on HCB also on YouTube, including a short clip in French showing him at work on a busy street.

Pen Brush & Camera, rather longer at around 50 minutes is still worth watching, though it would be a good idea to do so with a Cartier-Bresson book by your side, pausing the video occasionally to remind yourself what the pictures really look like.

Writing this today, on the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s funeral, I was reminded by a post on Facebook by David Hoffman that HCB covered the occasion for one of the UK’s major papers (possibly the Times or Sunday Times) but they didn’t like his pictures enough to use any of them. The comment was made to a post about some of the press coverage of that event, Farewell To Greatness, on Graham Harrison’s Photohistories.

It was also that occasion that brought one of my friends, then a young American photographer travelling on a military discharge at the end of his service as a photographer in Italy, to this country. Meeting a young English woman at a party led to his staying here, where he has been studying the English over the last 50 years. You can see a little of John Benton-Harris‘s work on his web site, though I hope it will not be too long before a book is available of his pictures of the English. And today he is out in London celebrating 50 years by taking more pictures of us. I won’t be celebrating Churchill myself, though perhaps he was the leader we needed in 1940 (before my time) he certainly was not at other times. Socialist Worker‘s verdict on him as ‘A vicious reactionary—racist and brutal‘ is perhaps a little one-sided, but a useful counterpoint to today’s wall-to-wall media sychophancy.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.