With a Nod to Cartier-Bresson…Posted: June 5, 2012
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.