With a Nod to Cartier-Bresson…

I never thought a trip to a museum would be life altering, but in my case, it changed my course.  A few years ago, a friend recommended I go see French photographer Henry Cartier-Bresson’s exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.  I planned a quick stop, squeezed in between other meetings, and ended up staying for hours.

I did not have much of a background in photography….unless you count the beginning photography class I took in my twenties, at the Smithsonian, when living in Washington, DC.  I was anything but a natural in the class.  I didn’t understand the settings on my manual camera. I made a mess of the chemicals in the darkroom.  My prints were far from stunning.  Before long, I threw my hands up in defeat and switched back to my cheap point-and-shoot camera, letting my interest in photography fade.

But Cartier-Bresson’s exhibit took my breath away. The show highlighted his images from all over the world, summarizing a fascinating life of travel.   I was captivated by lighting… and expression…and composition.  I stared at one of his most famous shots,  a man jumping across a puddle with his hand outstretched, his shadow reflected in the water, awed by how Cartier-Bresson had captured that perfect image, at just the right moment.

I was mesmerized by his photographs from Indonesia — girls, dressed in costume, smiling and laughing, spreading joy.

I was drawn into his image of couples on the banks of the Seine, enjoying a picnic lunch while boats sailed by.  It was as if the camera had vanished, as if I was right there with each of the subjects.

Within a week of that visit to the Cartier-Bresson exhibit, I bought a digital camera, and hooked up with a local photographer for the first of a series of lessons.  At first, I was an awkward shooter, not even able to hold the camera correctly.  But, I practiced, took hundreds and hundreds of pictures…and when I got home to my digital darkroom (thankfully, those harsh chemicals are a thing of the past), the images came to life.

Alone with the photo editing software, I got lost in tone and shading options and debated the appropriate crops and touch-ups.  I started entering amateur/novice contests, earning some minor recognition for my attempts.  I brought the camera everywhere, and even made a sale or two, simply by being at the right place, at the right time, with the right equipment.

I can’t say that I ever  progressed beyond the advanced beginner level, and am not actively seeking to advance my skills,  but photography gave me a new outlook on life. Now that I’ve had training in shooting photos, I don’t view my surroundings in the same way.  I pull the car over when I see light hitting the trees at a certain angle.  I can stop a conversation if I see the sky changing or spot unusual clouds rolling in.  I notice birds … and flowers … and passersby, as never before.   The world, simply, is a thousand times more beautiful.

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2 Comments on “With a Nod to Cartier-Bresson…”

  1. its fantastic how the work of a single person can re-spark interest in something (a passion) that has faded. Thanks for sharing this post and good luck.

  2. […] With a Nod to Cartier-Bresson… (savorystew.wordpress.com) Share this post: Pin ItShare on TumblrMorePrintDiggEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]


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