Project 3

Write a personal response to the film in the contextual section of your learning log, taking care to reference properly any quotations you use.

Personal response to the film Henri Cartier-Bresson L’amour tout court “Just Plain Love.” A documentary film, directed by Rafael O’Byrne, 2001.

 It was illuminating to see and hear the photographer that I’ve read and heard so much about. He was not at all as I would have expected. From the first moment the camera rolls there is a warmth mischievousness, and youthfulness (even at 92) in his demeanour. When drawing a friend and asked to flatter, he laughs but continues in his own way. He often laughs at himself. It was revealing to see him reflecting on his life, often with some amusement.

He seemed to enjoy recounting how he pushed the boundaries at home with his left wing Catholic parents, for instance describing how when his mother campaigned to close brothels he told her that many interesting conversations were had there! He shows throughout an unquenchable thirst for freedom. After leaving home for Africa he talks of the time he spent in jail, his body language and slowing of thought suggests that he still recalls these as very challenging times and admits he “always feels like a prisoner on the run.” (Byrne, 2001, part 1).

I was especially interested in his reflections on his many travels and the way that it influenced his work “You don’t have to go far to notice a difference.(Byrne, 2001, part 1).  He speaks intelligently not of the enjoyment of travelling, but of being in and observing a country which he could identify with, “The truth of travelling is not about discovering the new, but about that which will pass and about that which will last. So one can gain a deeper insight than by merely flicking through art books.” (Byrne, 2001, part 4). As a lover of the Far East myself I was particularly interested in the footage of his shots in India, his reminiscing of conversations with Ghandi and his reflections on the impact that Far Eastern religions such as Buddhism had on him as spiritual sciences; it is obvious that he immersed himself in these cultures.

When describing a shot taken of a Greek boy walking on his hands he underlines that this was simply catching the moment, not staged and also expresses the spirit of the moment: happiness, fleeting joyfulness, youth and agility – This is the essence of Henri Cartier- Bresson. This process is underlined when he explains how he took his famous leaping man shot (without seeing through the view finder), “It’s luck that matters…you have to be receptive that’s all.” (Byrne, 2001, part 2). He tells how he works intuitively, is on the look-out and reacts quickly. He talks of form as a priority over light, the divine proportion and geometry but says that he feels this intuitively. I find intriguing as in the preface of The Decisive Moment (Cartier Bresson, 1952) he wrote, “ If a photograph is to communicate its subject in all its intensity, the relationship of form must be vigorously established”; I guess we must take it at face value that he did do this instinctively.

It was also fascinating to hear how he approaches photographing people, “It’s an enquiry…but also it’s a physical embracing of the person. (Byrne, part 2). Throughout the filming he demonstrates empathy and it is obvious that he has formed close emotional bonds in his life; this is particularly evident when discussing his friends, contemporaries and subjects such as sex and love. He maintains that he likes his subjects not to notice him as “if the subject is aware someone is staring at them they will pose, put on a mask and lose spontaneity.(Byrne, 2001, part 5). I was amazed to learn that he even painted the shiny parts of his camera black so it didn’t draw attention. Certainly at a Kabuki actor’s funeral in 1965 he seems to photograph amongst the crowd unnoticed. There is a suggestion that his compassion and empathy helped to render him invisible to his subjects, now I have seen him interviewed I can understand this is probably so.

He is firm in his views; when reviewing a book of his prints is sharply self-critical, whilst when describing photographers is almost scathing at the way that they fail to seek meaning in what they see, “What matters is to look. But people don’t look. Most of them don’t look. They press the button. They identify. But fail to seek the meaning…beyond this or this. Very few do it.” (Byrne, 2001, part 1). When asked “Can one learn to look?” His response “Can one learn to have sex?” (Byrne, 2001, part 4) is typical of his instinctiveness. “I am a visual man. I watch, watch, watch. I understand things through my eyes” (Cartier-Bresson, 1963).

During the film reviewers of his prints, describe the best of his photos as having the same qualities as him “interesting, lively, vivid, sharp not overbearing or heavy”, (Byrne, 2001, part 3); having watched the film I would agree with this analysis of Henri Cartier-Bresson.


O’Byrne, R (2001. )Henri Cartier-Bresson L’amour tout court “Just Plain Love”:

Part 1 Accessed 12.2.16- 16.2.16).

Part 2 Accessed 12.2.16- 16.2.16).

Part 3  Accessed 12.2.16- 16.2.16).

Part 4 Accessed 12.2.16- 16.2.16).

Part 5–Mv8. Accessed 12.2.16- 16.2.16).

Cartier Bresson, H. (1952). The Decisive Moment, New York: Simon & Schuster.

Cartier-Bresson, H., (15.3.1963), Life Magazine cited in Cheroux, C. (2008). 1st Edition. London. Thames and Hudson.

Cheroux, C (2008), Henri Cartier- Bresson.1st ed. London. Thames and Hudson.

Golden, R (2013), Masters of Photography. Third edition. London. Goodman.

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