Henri Cartier-Bresson, often regarded as the father of modern photojournalism, once said, “To photograph is to hold one’s breath when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.”
This profound understanding of the medium is vividly evident in his iconic photograph, “Behind the Gare Saint Lazare.”
Here are the lessons I’ve gathered from it during my photos analysis of “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare”. Watch the video I created on this topic here:
Embrace the decisive moment
Henri Cartier-Bresson’s concept of the “decisive moment” suggests that there is a precise and unique instant when the visual and emotional elements of a scene come together in perfect harmony. “Behind the Gare Saint Lazare” epitomizes this notion.
In the photograph, we witness a man mid-leap over a puddle, creating a mirrored reflection juxtaposed against the background of a circus poster. Everything in that frame harmonizes in such a way that even a split second earlier or later would not convey the same story or emotion.
Lesson: Be present and observant. Wait for the perfect confluence of events to tell a compelling story.
Break the rules
Henri Cartier-Bresson shot “Behind the Gare Saint Lazare” through a fence, which would typically be seen as an obstruction. Yet, he used it to his advantage, adding another layer of depth and intrigue. The fence’s bars offer a sense of containment, making the leap appear even more daring.
Lesson: Don’t be confined by conventional photography rules. Embrace obstructions and leverage them creatively.
Context is king
The background circus poster in the photo, depicting another leap, provides a surreal context that elevates the narrative. This serendipitous backdrop makes the photograph more than just a man jumping over a puddle; it adds a layer of whimsy and artistry.
Lesson: Always be aware of the background. It can provide context, enhancing the narrative of your shot.
Intuition over perfection
Cartier-Bresson did not use the viewfinder for this shot. Instead, he acted on instinct, capturing a moment he felt rather than one he meticulously planned. The result wasn’t technically perfect, but it was emotionally resonant.
Lesson: Trust your gut feeling. Not every great shot comes from careful planning; sometimes, it’s the spontaneous ones that leave a lasting impact.
Value the process
As the video highlighted, Cartier-Bresson’s consistent dedication to street photography and his commitment to the process led to masterpieces like this. He once remarked, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”
Lesson: Persistence and consistent practice are key. Every shot you take, good or bad, contributes to your growth as a photographer.
In conclusion, “Behind the Gare Saint Lazare” is not just a photograph; it’s a lesson in storytelling, intuition, and the art of observation. Henri Cartier-Bresson’s masterpiece serves as a reminder that photography is as much about the photographer’s vision and approach as it is about the subject. Through understanding and learning from iconic works such as this, we can push our boundaries and redefine our perspective on the world through our lens.