Project 5.3 Is Behind Gare St Lazare a lucky shot?


Henri Cartier Bresson Behind Gare St Lazare Magnum Photos PAR64307 (1)

Earlier I wondered if Henri Cartier-Bresson was lucky with his shots. I want to explore this further. I almost felt disparaging towards luck having a part in art.

My research considered what was happening in 1932. Hitler was in ascendancy within Germany. Einsteins theory of relativity led to splitting the atom. Art was full of geometry. Leica introduced the M2 rangefinder camera Henri Cartier-Bresson was familiar with the settings on this camera allowing him to work at speed in confined spaces.

Henry Cartier Bresson had employed geometry previously in his work such as “FRANCE. The Var department. Hyères. 1932”(2) giving depth to his work.


Cartier-Bresson France The Var department 1932 Magnum photos PAR44919 (2)

Art was playing with “Gestalt Principles” which state that we look for the whole in groups of things.

In the picture triangles formed by the roofs give similarity then you see another triangle formed by the mans legs. This dissimilar holds your attention and becomes the focal point. Figure/Ground place the man centre stage separating his shape from the background in silhouette.

I deconstructed the picture by tracing shapes and reflections. Fig 1. Shows the photo. Fig 2. Shapes and fig 3. Reflections. Shapes give great structure to this composition the reflections repeat and reinforce it. Add some lead in lines and it works alone.

There is luck in this photograph, Cartier-Bresson didn’t know who would enter the scene. He just waited till someone did. This luck breaks the rigidity of the rules. Adding a new dimension to the photograph, completing the the story.

I started this journey not sure what luck had to do with art. It adds a new dimension to our work in whatever form it takes.

Henri Cartier-Bresson felt luck was more important than skill I now empathize  with this.


(1) Magnum photos (2014a) Available at (Accessed: 6 December 2016).

(2) Magnum photos (2014b) Available at: (Accessed: 6 December.


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