The charm and genius of Cartier Bresson’s work lies not simply in the temporal – in the split second, the “decisive moment” – but in spatial arrangements within the frame and within the space covered by the viewfinder. As Adam Marelli’s excellent articles on Cartier Bresson demonstrate, his genius lay in composition, and Marelli is right to note that Cartier Bresson’s work and genius is often reduced to caricature, as though it simply was just “the decisive moment” and nothing more. The series of pieces in which Marelli develops his eloquent analysis of Cartier Bresson can be found here:
Cartier Bresson’s decisive moment was never a moment in time divorced from wider spatial forms or aesthetic judgements. Cartier Bresson’s decisive moment was rather a recognition that the ways in which we experience space are always mediated temporally; these things occur in time. Time cannot therefore be divorced from space (just by focusing on “the” moment and nothing else), nor from composition. These spatial arrangements in the street, and within the frame, are temporally mediated: they occur within a fraction of a second, and thus the decisive moment is more than simply a question of time, but is rather a question of spatial experiences that occur in time. Koral Ward’s book Augenblick: The Concept of the ‘Decisive Moment’ in 19th and 20th Century Western Philosophy (Ashgate Publishing Company 2008) is an interesting read in this respect.
I wanted to post briefly on Cartier Bresson because in the light of a further recent piece on him by Eric Kim, I have decided to write and post a couple of posts on Cartier Bresson over the next two or three weeks, to touch upon some of the aesthetic questions that I think are missing from Kim’s piece, and some of those which are clearly implied in Marelli’s quite brilliant series.
Before I do this, I thought I would offer my own anti-Bresson image. I should perhaps note that when I say “anti-Bresson” I don’t intend it as a counter to Bresson. Rather, I simply mean that this particularly dull image I have selected is the exact opposite of what we might expect to see if we were to look at a Cartier Bresson image. Here is a rather banal image in which nothing happens, in which there is no movement, and in which no interesting spatial relations are established or explored, save for my use of tree trunks to emphasise the lack of spatial interest, by acting as frames. If part of the genius of Bresson lies in his layered composition, exploring the depth of space and spatial relationships in time, I wanted to begin with a rather mundane image of my own which does none of this. I call it Canvas, because what I’m trying to do in this image is precisely to flatten space, precisely to render the image as just a surface, and nothing more. There’s a reason why I’m playing with this rather dull flattening of space, here added to by the reduction of saturation and contrast that I tend to go for in a lot of my colour images, but I will leave that explanation until the last of my forthcoming reflections on Cartier Bresson.