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Photography is… Thank you Henri Cartier-Bresson

“Photography is, for me, a spontaneous impulse coming from an ever attentive eye which captures the moment and its eternity.” Henri Cartier-Bresson

For me, this quote is photography. Cartier-Bresson makes a decisive statement that encompasses the history and future of medium.

A spontaneous impulse describes the act of taking the picture. The moment our mind deciphers the world through the lens and sends an impulse to our finger to gently press the shutter release. But the key is not the impulse directing the physical act of creation. Rather, it is the importance of spontaneity in the act of creation. Spontaneity is the relationship between what we desire to capture and our technical and creative skills to capture it.

Taking us to an ever attentive eye, or how we see the world in relation to the 2 dimensional space we intend to capture it with? Photographers through trials and tribulations, successes and less than successful moments (never failures, because we learn from everything we do), develop their ever attentive eye. This is the personal journey of learning technical skills, connecting with the historic and contemporary masters, experimenting, and growing creatively. The development of the ever attentive eye is not only to see and capture extraordinary moments, rather, it is to view the mundane world and organize and present it in extraordinary ways.

Capturing the moment and its eternity is by far the most important part of Cartier-Bresson’s statement and for that matter the most important aspect of photography. I use this analogy in my classes to connect my students to the medium’s importance quickly.

If I send you home to take a photograph of your bedroom exactly the way you left it. Would you consider it to be one of the most important images in your collection? Most likely it wouldn’t be. But, if you had a photograph of your bedroom, just the way you left it when you were 7. Would that be an important photograph in your collection? Most likely it would be.

The moments we choose to capture or deem valuable are predominately the ones we perceive as having importance and immediacy. Birthdays, weddings, vacations, all happen with less frequency than waking up and looking at the same world we woke up in for the past 5 or 25 years. But even the mundane holds importance in photography. Because, the moment, no matter how insignificantly viewed in the present will become significant as the present fades further away into the past.

Thank you Henri Cartier-Bresson, not only for your attentive eye, but also for this decisive and poetic statement about the medium of photography.

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