Part 5 – 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.

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Behind the gare Saint-Lazare

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Behind the gare Saint-Lazare

Pivotal Point

The pivotal point that my eye returns to in this image is the wooden structure in the water, especially the point nearest the man. This is the launching point and for me is somehow the focus – more so even than the man himself. I think it helps that the structure appears to be moving due to the ripples around it. I can imagine the man walking along it and then pushing off to clear as much water as possible.


From a contextual point of view, we can see that the interior context of this photo is quite complex – there’s a lot happening. Not only do we have the central subject of the man leaping over the water, but we also have a figure in the background who seems to be looking through a fence. The poster on the fence contains the word “Railowsky” – apparently the name of a circus. One of the websites I came across even suggested that the leaping man might be seen as a kind of acrobat. Seen in this way, I wonder if Cartier-Besson recognised the potential for humour – not impossible as many of his photos contain quite obvious humour.

There’s not much we can say about the external context except to point out that the image is kind of standalone – it is so well-known that it would be difficult to appropriate it for other uses just with the external context. But marketing people are endlessly creative …

From the point of view of the original context, Cartier-Bresson says in the documentary ‘L’amour tout court’ that he just stuck his Leica’s lens through some railings and couldn’t see anything through the viewfinder because it was blocked by a railing. The hazard of a rangefinder! So the “causal environment” was not optimal and it is a great credit to Carter-Besson’s skill and experience that he managed to capture such an image. Having said that, we can imagine that the photo accurately captures “the way it was” – it doesn’t particularly select a small scene that we couldn’t imagine is not a representative part of the bigger environment.


L’amour tout court. (2001) At: (Accessed 27 March 2016)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s