PDF: Henri Cartier-Bresson Photography Composition Studies

In some regards, I think that Henri Cartier-Bresson is highly UNDERRATED. By looking through ~5,000+ of his photos, here are some under-known photos I analyzed, and the elegant arabesque (curve) compositions I uncovered:


Video slideshow

The thinking

The thought:

To better understand a photographer and their genius, dissect their photos.

For me, this meant looking through ALL his photos (at least the ones I can find online, which is around 5,000+ photos) and to scroll quickly through the photos, and select the ones which spoke to me, then using an iPad to screenshot compositions I really found interesting, then drawing (in red) my composition ‘gist‘ of the image.

What I discovered

Some takeaways:

  1. First of all, Henri Cartier-Bresson traveled A LOT. It seems in his active 30+ years of traveling and photographing, he saw a lot, witnessed a lot, and photographed a lot.
  2. There are LOTS of under-appreciated (or unknown) Henri Cartier-Bresson photos. I think HCB is MORE of a genius than people realize.

HCB’s secret sauce

We all want to be like HENRI. But what is his ‘secret sauce’?

My thought:

A combination of layers, arabesque, flattening the perspective, and just being very quick to shoot.

Henri Cartier-Bresson isn’t actually about ‘the decisive moment’. Instead, what he did was this:

As he is wandering around, he witnesses certain compositions come to life. Then he positions his feet quickly, and composes the scene to create an elegant ‘arabesque‘ (curved) composition to whatever he sees.

Did he compose like this intentionally?

I believe so.

If we look through all his photos, he obviously did this on purpose.

When I say ‘on purpose’ I mean to say this:

  1. When he was out shooting, he looked for a certain arrangement of his subjects.
  2. To see the arabesque is a combination of intuition, practice, and internalized composition.
  3. When he ‘edited‘ (selected) his photos, he would choose the ones with the best compositions (many of which had an arabesque composition).

Not all of his compositions have a curve or arabesque. But I feel that his most elegant, beautiful, and dynamic photos do.

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