By Adam Crawford
“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” – Ansel Adams
It was photographers like Alfred Stieglitz and Eugene Atget that ushered in photography as a viable art form at the beginning of the 20th century, and what came after was an amazing collective of photographers who shaped today’s photography landscape. The true art of photography was brewing as the next generations of photographers started entering into the fold.
We saw the rise of star photographers such as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Robert Capa, Dorothea Lange, William Eggleston, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, all which had a similar philosophy when making their photographs — Composition then capture.
What separates an artist from a laymen is how they use their respective mediums — whether a painter, photographer, or writer — to create a composition. The artist places elements in a particular scene together to capture a meaningful, significant, or emotional collection of shapes, people/wildlife, and lighting that are a combination of symmetry and subject.
The quote: “Of all the means of expression, photography is the only one that fixes a precise moment in time” by Henri Cartier-Bresson, was the inspiration for Precise Moment magazine, because he truly embodied the art of photography.
Henri Cartier-Bresson is considered the father of photojournalism because he used a distinct style that most photographers use today. His work and style are still taught in photography classes all over the world, and you’d be hard pressed to find a photographer that hasn’t heard the expression “decisive moment.”
In his own words, the decisive moment was: “Photography is not like painting,” Cartier-Bresson told the Washington Post in 1957. “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”
As you can see in Cartier-Bresson’s photo above, ‘USA. Fire in Hoboken, facing Manhattan. 1947.’, he finds the decisive moment when the smoke dies down from a warehouse fire to get downtown Manhattan across from the Hudson River. His frame has a perfect horizontal line in the middle that splits the fire from the skyline, and shows the dichotomy and juxtaposition pertaining to the two scenes. And as such, he had a remarkable eye in finding symmetry and had a great instinct to know when to shoot. The art of photography for HCB was a combination in regards to timing, composition and lighting.
That decisive moment, he knew, had the ability to fix a precise moment in time in just fractions of a second. His method was to find perfect space and light to compose his shot before he even considered depressing the shutter. His aesthetic and photographic eye came from his earlier years as a surrealist painter who found photography as his true calling when he saw a photograph called ‘Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika’ by Martin Munkácsi.
“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” ― Henri Cartier-Bresson
Master photographers like Cartier-Bresson, Adams, Weston, Stieglitz, Lange, etc., were all pioneers in there respective fields of photography because they treated their work like art and more than just recording history’s posterity. They used their photographs to tell the story of a place and time, show the harmony of composing subjects in a symmetrical way, and to freeze moments of beauty, pain, or whatever they desired.
Although things in photography now seem to be more ephemeral and less frozen in time, photography is still a medium with an important place today — especially in our digital age. The modern photography landscape on the surface appears to be like a droll white noise with an endless cycle of new cameras and ‘must-have gear,’ but if you wade through it one can find artful masters still around us; names like Sam Abell, Annie Leibovitz, and Sebastião Salgado.
But there’s also a new crop of photographers brewing, waiting, learning, and making mistakes I’m sure. Young students of the craft will change the landscape of photography like their predecessors, and will create master works that will inspire others to become photographers, and that will grasp photography as an artform.
The point is, the art of photography cannot be contained or restrained, and in a free society, a cycle is the way of life. Life beats on no matter what. Someone will always carry the torch and transcend boundaries and the commonplace to make photographs that will bring out emotion, make the hair on the back of our necks stand, making something that moves the viewer.
Some may say photography is no longer a viable option to make a living, but the truth about any careers is: if you work hard enough at anything, you can succeed. And if you have that extra thirst to become the next Henri Cartier-Bresson, you must become a student of photography and absorb what they have done. Writers don’t become great writers without years of rejection and reading masterpieces. It’s no different for a photographer who must learn from their mistakes and trudge on to make that adversity a part of their strength of character.
Whether you’re into photojournalism, portraits, landscapes, fine art, sports, abstracts, you just need one technique which will provide you with infinite opportunities to make a photo in a new and exciting way — but it all depends on how you frame things in your viewfinder, and your life.