mr. decisive


“In whatever one does, there must be a relationship between the eye and the heart. One must come to one’s subject in a pure spirit. One must be strict with oneself. There must be time for contemplation, for reflection about the world and the people about one. If one photographs people, it is their inner look that must be revealed.”

henri cartier-bresson, the last living founder of the magnum photo society, has died.

i have always been intrigued by the fact that someone who saw so piercingly, who seemed unable to regard life at all without visually composing it first, unapologetically turned his back on photography mid-stride. what does it mean to have been a pioneer in a field, a genre, and then to feel emptied out by it? or to feel that you’ve seen everything that you’re going to see in that way, and that to continue would be repetition, that nothing new would be learned by you in that personal, epiphanal way? if ephiphany had, in fact, become apophany?

is this something specific to photography? to being a purveyer of images? (and then i remember: didn’t rimbaud abandon writing at 19? after a season in hell?) and what does it mean to make such a decision with such finality?

(quote from the nyt obituary, “He claimed in later life that he no longer even wanted to talk about photography. “It’s like when you’re divorced and people keep asking you about your former wife,” he said. “There something indecent about it.”)

maybe i am in awe simply because that kind of reaction, that manner of emphatic decision making, seems so alien to me. i could never be sure of myself or of something like that. that kind of surety, i guess a knowledge of self, to know there is nothing left for you to know (or, if there was, that you did not care to discover what it was). maybe he found it in drawing. i hope he did.

a toast to you, henri. you were here many years, and i am grateful for what and how you saw:


good retrospectives and nice “cartier-bresson as viewed by others” at magnum’s website. have a glass of wine and click through the archives.

One thought on “mr. decisive

  1. Utopianism– that’s what M. C-B eut voulu. And then discovery (really fucking wonder-filled child-like discovery: think of that irrepressible image w/the kid w/the two wine bottles tucked under each arm proudly beaming dirty-faced at the camera!) turned on its heel and in an instatnt turned into commodity and commodity’s shadow– exploitation. Not to discover the other, but to use the other. Bresson must have wanted to puke on himself. It makes me want to puke on myself. Poor French Socialist Bastards. It’s a long trek around the inherent ambiguities of the photographic condition…

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