Write a personal response to the Henri Cartier-Bresson documentary ‘L’amour tout court’ in the contextual section of your learning log, taking care to reference properly any quotations you use (300–500 words).
Part one starts with one of Cartier-Besson’s most famous quotes:
What matters is to look. But people don’t look. Most of them don’t look. They press the button … They identify. But to seek the meaning beyond this or that [pointing to his eyes] … very few do it.
(part 1, 1:20)
He’s obviously stating that most people don’t see what is beyond the superficial image – just as it appears to their eyes. The implication is that if they could look in the way that Cartier-Bresson has in mind, then they would recognise a lot more and (perhaps) they would take more interesting photographs.
When asked just a little further on in the video (1:41) “what does the eye seek out?”, the literal response is: “it’s a question mark”. In fact, a better translation would be “it’s unknown” or even “good question!”.
Indeed this question lingers through all five parts of the video and is never really answered. At one point (part 2, 0:47), when providing background to his famous photo “Gare Saint Lazare”, Cartier-Bresson says that he pushed his camera lens between two planks, but couldn’t see anything through the viewfinder (presumably he was using his beloved Leica and therefore one plank would have covered the viewfinder). He goes onto explain that “c’est tout le temps la chance” (it’s always luck) and that “you have to be receptive, that’s all”.
Frankly, this seems to be a case of a master playing down his skills. According to the Wikipedia entry, he more-or-less started seriously with photography in 1931 when he acquired his first Leica. According to the Magnum site, “Gare Saint Lazare” was taken in 1932, so it’s plain that either luck truly was on his side or (probably more likely) in a short time he’d developed a very strong understanding of the field of view of his (most likely) 50mm lens and knew intuitively what would most likely work.
So we need to really look and to be receptive to luck. Is that it?
In part 2 at 1:37 things get a little more concrete when he points out a couple of his photos have geometrical relationships within them. He expands on this later in the same part (5:25) by saying that “Sensitivity, intuition, a sense of geometry. Nothing else. You have it or you don’t.” A bit of a let down for those who don’t feel they have these qualities, however at least for mere mortals a sense of geometry can be developed.
At the beginning of part 4, the interviewer asks the fundamental question that we’ve been leading to: “can one learn to look?”. Cartier-Besson’s response is: “can one learn to have sex?”. Beyond the joke, he goes on to suggest that to learn to look is to go to the Louvre and look at Rubens’ paintings. Presumably he means that we should learn from the masters of painting and perhaps other arts as well. He goes onto say that love is all that matters – “just plain love”, which gives the title of the video. He expands a little by saying that he means a love for life and then becomes clearly very pensive as if this statement brings a lot of memories for him.
If we can wrap up this idea of “looking”, then it is probably a combination of things. We can develop our knowledge of proportion and the golden ratio (“geometry” as Cartier-Bresson calls it). These need to be there at the intuitive level. But we also should work on somehow developing our sensitivity and being open to what is happening in front of us, and to what might happen next. The next part is down to luck. It’s always luck.