Henri Cartier-Bresson Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare 1932
We looked at ‘point’ earlier in the course, in exercise 1.2. I understood then how a tiny point in an image can draw the eye to a particular part, and how the eye then travels around the picture. In part 3 of the course, I spent some time looking at Cartier-Bresson’s Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, in terms of the ‘decisive moment’, and I made a mind map of my thoughts about it in my sketch book. It is interesting to return to this photograph in terms of the information it contains, and the story that is created.
I was interested in Vilem Flusser’s distinction between photography and writing in his assertion that ‘when you read a sentence you read it from beginning to end in a linear way – you don’t re-read particular words again and again… but when you look at a photograph, your eye returns to certain elements … almost as if to re-experience them (Flusser 2000 in course notes p110)
I do sometimes re-read words in my favourite writings simply to re-enjoy the beauty of a particular choice of word or phrase, but never do I routinely read backwards, or read words in a random way since this would make no sense of the story. However, I agree that generally, reading is linear. With a picture, reading it in different ways, looking at the image again and again, is certainly possible, and new things can be noticed each time.
Similarly, when looking at Edward Hopper’s painting The Office at Night and Victor Burgin’s homage photographs of it, I noticed new things each time. For example, I didn’t initially notice the significance of the blowing curtains until I made further research.
There is a lot to look at in Bresson’s image, a lot of information. However, the pivotal point, for me, in this image is the point at which the man’s foot almost touches the floor. This is the ‘gap’ that creates the suspense and leaves the story ‘open’. Like The Office at Night, we wonder what happens next – will the secretary bend and pick up the paper? will our man get wet?
From the point, my eye then travels around the image. I take in the spectator, leaning in the same direction as the main subject as if shouting ‘hurry, you’ll be late’, the multiple reflections and mirroring that provided balance in the image by making the background every bit as interesting as the main event. The symmetry of the reflections of the fence, the dancer in the background ‘fleeing’ in the opposite direction, the double reflections of the Railowski sign, static and permanent, all seem to emphasise the chaos and anxiety that we see in the leaping figure. He is positioned at the right of centre, and he is almost out of the image. I covered him up with my hand and confirmed that without him, this is a very orderly scene.
In terms of photography as story, I am interested in how a photograph ‘is more than just information – it can contain a story. And the photographer is … a storyteller’ (course notes p110)
When I look at Bresson’s image I think about the story, in terms of the moments before and after the image was captured. Why is this man in such a rush? Where is he going? is he late to meet someone, or is he simply late for work. Taken before we all carried phones, this image makes me start to picture someone waiting for him, worried? angry? The boss looking at his watch? There is a lot of information in the pivotal point, it leads to an imaginative interpretation of a story created by the image. I want to know more about this man and his life, why was this moment in time so important to him? Would it matter if he were late? Does it matter now?
Rinko Kawauch’s Illuminance, conveys information in a very different way to Bresson. See my post photography as information for my thoughts on how an absence of information can tell its own story.
List of Illustrations
Cartier Bresson, Henri (1932) Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare. Photograph. At: https://www.bing.com/images/search?&q=behind+the+gare+saint-lazare&qft=+filterui:licenseType-Any&FORM=R5IR40. accessed 11 April 2017
Flusser, V. (2000). Towards a philosophy of photography. 1st ed. London: Reaktion.