Exercise 5.3

Look again at Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in Part Three. (If you can get to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London you can see an original print on permanent display in the Photography Gallery.) Is there a single element in the image that you could say is the pivotal ‘point’ to which the eye returns again and again? What information does this ‘point’ contain?

Include a short response to Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in your learning log. You can be as imaginative as you like. In order to contextualise your discussion you might want to include one or two of your own shots, and you may wish to refer to Rinko Kawauchi’s photograph mentioned above or the Theatres series by Hiroshi Sugimoto discussed in Part Three. Write about 150–300 words.

HCB Henri Cartier-Bresson, Behind the Gare Saint-lazare.

The element that my eye is immediately drawn to and returns again to is the man’s lower heel. The silhouette of the reflection and his hovering frozen form almost meet as a shadow would at the point of this heel. I feel tension as I anticipate the heel touching down and breaking the surface of the water.  This single point contains information about the leap of the man, gravity pulling him down, the stillness of the water (shown by his reflection) and his direction of travel.

By no means as interesting as Cartier- Bresson’s image is mine below. It does however share the similarity of symmetry of legs and heels, not shown by a reflection but by the position and movement of two people.

_MG_9773 response to HBCNiki South (2016)

Cartier-Bresson has said that when taking this photo he just stuck his camera through the railings and that capturing this image was just luck. However we know that he was a master of geometrical composition and the decisive moment, so we should assume that he had assessed the scene and had a good idea what would occur and what he was likely to capture. In her Illuminance series Kawauchi shows “offhand compositional mastery, as well as its ability to incite wonder via careful attention to tiny gestures and the incidental details of her everyday environment”. (Chandler, n d). Her images are also “keenly observational and somehow heightened in their extraordinary sense of intimacy”, (O’Hagan, S, 2011)  such as in this image where she captures, as Cartier-Bresson in “Behind the Gare Saint-lazare”, the inevitable fall of feet.

Kawauchi(Kawauchi, n,d)

It’s interesting that though her work in Illuminance is so different to the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, she captures as he did “the mindful awareness of what is special in simple things” (lens culture, 2016). I like the way that she strives to make the viewer ask questions when reading an image; she says an image is like a prologue You wonder, ‘What’s going on?’ You feel something is going to happen’ (Andia, nd); narrative may be more important to her than planned composition. 

So in responding to Behind the Gare Saint-lazare, I return to the comments in Expressing Your Vision handbook that a photograph is more than just information – it can contain a story. And the photographer is more than just a recorder of information – she’s a storyteller.” (EYV p ).Despite his emphasis on composition there are many elements of story-telling in his picture: Why is the man in a hurry? Where is he going? Why is he rushing through/over the water?


Andia, L (n,d) The culture trip: Ten things you should know about Rinko Kawauchi (Accessed 24.6.16)

 Chandler, D (n,d) Aperture. Photographs by Rinko Kawauchi Essay by David Chandler.     (Accessed 24.6.16)

 Kawauchi (n,d) (Accessed 24.6.16)

 Lens Culture (2016) Illuminance Photographs by Rinko Kawauchi. (Accessed 24.6.16)

O’Hagan, S (2011) The Guardian. Worlds apart: who has the best shot at winning the Deutsche Börse prize? (Accessed 24.6.16)