Was Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Behind the Gare St Nazare(1)” a lucky shot? In looking at this photograph I ask myself was it spontaneous, or planned and structured? Below is my mind map of thoughts about this picture.
First I wanted to consider any historical events that could have influenced the shot. Buck Rogers in the 25th century debuts. Adolf Hitler gained German Citizenship. Japan and China open negotiations after a turbulent time. Cockcroft splits a lithium atom. Amelia Earhart flies across the Atlantic. The Great Depression hits bottom in the USA. Ghandi begins his hunger strike. The Kennedy Thorndyke experiment proves Einstein theory of relativity.
In Art the Abstraction-Création movement is formed this movement counteracts Bretons surrealists. They form art from mathematical shapes on graph paper. Such as Arithmetic Drawing Composition(2).
In photography “Lunch atop a skyscraper”(3). is taken. Painted art included “Girl before a mirror” (4). both paper cutout and paint (4). In 1931 Salvador Dali shows “The Persistence of Memory” (5), which shows melting watches. These are Influenced by Einsteins theory of relativity..Shapes and form were prevalent in the Art world in Cubism and the Abstraction-Creation movement.
So whilst none of these single events influence the photo, in my opinion it is of its time. With a certain darkness influenced by the feeling in the world of art where shapes are used to build form in a picture.
Technological changes came from Leica who had released the M2(7). This camera coupled with a 50mm lens was Cartier-Bresson’s staple. He developed the skill of seeing to get the most from this lens. He could make it appear wider than the lens actually was.
Light meters also became available in 1931 with the Rhamstine Electrophot(8). Cartier Bresson shunned these as they were heavy (1.5 lbs) and he said he had the skill to assess the light and set the camera himself quickly.
Henri Cartier-Bresson had a great eye for shape and structure throughout his career however there is a change between 1932 and 1933. Shapes in the latter being more pronounced. Look at France 1932 then Italy 1933 shapes are in the former but are much stronger in the Italy project.
Whilst looking for art in shapes I read about “The Gestalt Movement ” (9). Gestalt means organising groups into recognisable things. This principle is used in graphic art a lot. They were influencial in the 1920s. There are 8 laws in this philosophy.
1. The law of proximity where we group things together.
2. The Law of Similarity where we group similars together.
3. The law of closure where we complete the gap to form shapes and groups.
4. The law of Symetry where we group together based and same shapes.
5. The law of common fate i.e. We perceive movement implied by objects.
6. The law of continuity where sub conscious looks for continuity before grouping.
7. The law of Good Gestalt where we group together shapes following order.
8. The law of past experience we group things together based on past experience. We see the letter L and l as the same letter based on this.
The above image caught my attention it fits the “Similar Law ” in being dissimilar. our eye/brain wants to group together the similar, but are drawn to the dissimilar.
Isn’t this what Henri Cartier-Bresson has done. My eye is always drawn to the man leaping across the puddle. I am searching for similars and see lots around in buildings railings and relflections. His shape forms a dissimilar hape that jumps out of the picture every time I look at it.
References. (1). Abstraction-Création (2015) in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstraction-Création (Accessed: 12 October 2016). Cartier-Bresson, H. and Magnum (2016) Henri Cartier-Bresson. Behind the Gare st. Lazare. 1932. Available at: http://www.moma.org/collection/works/98333 (Accessed: 12 October 2016).
(2). Citations, Quotes & Annotations Abstraction-Création (2015) in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abstraction-Création (Accessed: 12 October 2016). (Abstraction-Création, 2015) Note: Picture by Theo Van Doesburg, Study for Arithmetic
(3). History, travel, arts, science, people, places (no date) Available at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/lunch-atop-a-skyscraper-photograph-the-story-behind-the-famous-shot-43931148/ (Accessed: 12 October 2016).
(4). www, P. (2009a) Girl before A mirror by Pablo Picasso. Available at: http://www.pablopicasso.org/girl-before-mirror.jsp (Accessed: 12 October 2016).
(5).. Dalí, S. (2016) Salvador Dalí. The persistence of memory. 1931. Available at: http://www.moma.org/collection/works/79018 (Accessed: 12 October 2016).
(6). www, P. (2009b) Three musicians by Pablo Picasso. Available at: http://www.pablopicasso.org/three-musicians.jsp (Accessed: 12 October 2016).
(7). Leica II (2016) in Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leica_II#/media/File%3ALEI0150_198_Leica_II_schwarz_-_Sn._67777_1931-M39_front_view_Umbau_von_Ic-0.jpg (Accessed: 12 October 2016).
(8). Ollinger, J. (no date) James’s light meter collection: Who invented the exposure meter? Available at: http://www.jollinger.com/photo/meters/other/invention.html.
(9). The Gestalt principles (no date) Available at: http://graphicdesign.spokanefalls.edu/tutorials/process/gestaltprinciples/gestaltprinc.htm (Accessed: 12 October 2016).