EYV Research Point Cartier-Bresson, L’amour de court

Expressing Your Vision Part 3

Project 3 ‘What matters is to look’

Brief – Watch the Henri Cartier-Bresson documentary:  L’amour tout court (“Just Plain Love”, 2001) and write a personal response to the film – 300- 500 words

In terms of my photography, I took the following points from these five interviews with Henri Cartier-Bresson:

The importance of looking

The films that make up L’Amour tout court give me the impression of a genius instinctive photographer possessed of natural ability to see and sense what makes a perfect image. I found the idea that he experiences the technical nature of good photographs – geometry, framing, identifying the right moment, as natural and instinctive (‘it’s in the eye’ ‘ you have it or you don’t’) as very humble.

Cartier-Bresson’s friend describes how he (Cartier-Bresson) didn’t even need to pause in his walking and conversation, so instinctive was his ability to see and then capture the perfect shot without interruption to his activity.

He says: ‘What matters is to look. But people don’t look. They press the button.’ This serves as a reminder to me to slow down and really think about how an image will be captured by the camera.

The importance of personal experiences

Cartier-Bresson’s life experiences are extreme in their depth – from privilege to prison, Africa and the Far East, he questions life, shocks his mother, rebels against convention and talks openly about sex and religion. His travels informed his photography and made him empathetic towards others by way of his experiencing different cultures and ways of life. Jean Genoud suggests that Bresson’s personality forms a big part of his images ‘not overbearing or heavy, but rather vivid and sharp…like he is himself’.  I hope that my experiences and particular interests will in time show in my images as my unique photographer’s voice.

The importance of empathy

I see Cartier-Bresson as passionate about photography and understanding towards the people he photographs. His personal skills of empathy and compassion contribute towards his ability to capture the essence of people in his images.

The film is subtitled Just Plain Love since Cartier-Bresson says that love is the most important thing. He sees love in human relationships and in fleeting moments, in the joy of youth, the talents of others and the mourning of those who pass away. He was an emotional man and all these emotions are held within his photographs.

I see empathy also in the respect that a photographer shows towards his/her subject, whether that is in showing a person in a flattering light or in gaining their consent prior to taking the picture.

Respecting the work of others

Cartier-Bresson accepts his talent but accepts no credit. He does not say that his success is the result of hard work and commitment and, while he acknowledges his ability as a gift, he also acknowledges his weaknesses – he sold his flute to be able to take the girls out because ‘he didn’t have the ear’ for music. He is very admiring of others’ talents but critical of himself; he shows respect for others, modesty, and appreciation of the contribution that other people make. He speaks of luck, of his famous images being the consequence of luck (‘it’s always luck ‘ it’s luck that matters’ ‘you have to be receptive that’s all’). I take from this that a gift for looking is indeed a very valuable gift, but one can always learn from other people. As a student, the opportunity to learn from a long history of talented photographers is a privilege.

Saying something

Cartier-Bresson feels that photography should make a difference and should be used ‘for something we believe in’. He used photography and, later, drawing, as a means to communicate: ‘you must know when to stop, when you’ve said it all’. I am interested in photography as visual literature, documentary and story-telling, and the idea that photography should have a purpose.  As a ‘literary’ person, new to photography, I hope in the future to be able to use images rather than words to say something.


Cartier- Bresson, H, (2001) L’amour tout court (“Just Plain Love”) [Interview]. At: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL707C8F898605E0BF (Accessed 4 August 2016)



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