on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Key Lessons from Old Pictures

Sacrificing the Beloved

Joe Cornish

Joe Cornish

Professional landscape photographer. His personal website is www.joecornishphotographer.com/



Henri Cartier-Bresson loomed large in the 1970s as I was discovering photography. His wonderful, witty documentary photographs are classics of their kind, and his mantra, “The Decisive Moment” remains well-known and understood by photographers.

But the Decisive Moment is also something of a marketing ploy for Cartier-Bresson and his legacy. Out of context, his pictures give the appearance of being made while wandering in which he has recognised the pictorial potential of a (street) scene, snapped one brilliant exposure, and moved on.

It reinforces the idea of the solitary genius artist-photographer, turning brass-plated reality into solid gold images, with (very French!) creativity and sophistication.

Henri Cartier-Bresson loomed large in the 1970s as I was discovering photography. His wonderful, witty documentary photographs are classics of their kind, and his mantra, “The Decisive Moment” remains well-known and understood by photographers.

A more realistic view, according to Alan Zeinrich, the Decisive Moment was when – looking at the B&W 35mm contact sheets with his darkroom printer – Cartier-Bresson declared, “Print that One!”

That interpretation may seem unfair, but it reminds us of the reality that Henri also had to work as hard as all photographers do making photographs; this often means having to make many exposures, as we work a way into a full understanding of what we are looking at.



This is a premium article and requires a paid subscription to access. Please take a look at the subscribe page for more information on prices.

On Landscape is part of Landscape Media Limited , a company registered in England and Wales . Registered Number: 07120795. Registered Office: 1, Clarke Hall Farm, Aberford Road, WF1 4AL