Henri Cartier-Bresson

Bringing a little Bresson to Berkshire.

It's always good to have a challenge. Sometimes you can get a bit too safe and start repeating yourself. Start repeating yourself.

Now, in no way, shape or form do I think my photography style is 'there' yet and all done. Not a jot. Any minor talent and creative expression thereof is a lifelong development project (...stop that, Ed)

So today I wanted to try something a bit different. To push myself. I wanted to do a shoot in the - very vague - style of the famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.

 Portrait of the French photographer Henri Cartier Bresson a founder member of MAGNUM Photos on the roof of the Magnum office penthouse of Magnum Photos in Manhattan on West 57th Street.1961

If you're not aware, this guy is - in the street photography world - somewhat of a legend and pretty much invented the genre. Now, I don't for one single moment pretend to be able to ape his style or talent one iota, but as a fun test, I thought I'd use some of the limitations he worked with (compared to modern photography) whilst applying a little of his 'beauty of the mundane' moments maxim and seeing what happens as a completely unscientific experiment.

My venue today was Windsor - just a short jump from home. In the news recently due to the very public outcry against our dodgy local council leader who seems to think the homeless of the Queen's gaff should be shuffled off the streets during the upcoming Royal Wedding because well, you know... inconvenient them looking poor isn't it? 

Have to say, the poor homeless types I saw didn't seem to be the 'professional beggars' much reported in the press - it was bloody freezing out there today...

Anyway, enough politics. Back to the plot. Here are the limitations:

50mm lens.
Cartier-Bresson used this focal length pretty much exclusively (perhaps with a little 35mm thrown in), whereas today I can choose from a 25, 35, 50, 55 and 85 if I want to allow me lots of different range to get the composition I like. The 50mm length is the nearest one to the human eye - so what I see, the camera sees. This is both limiting and freeing depending on your viewpoint (hem hem), but to sum up, for this shoot, I only took one lens - a 50mm.

Mono.
Colour? Colour is for wimps! Mr Cartier-Bresson thought - until later in his career - that colour was a 'distraction'. So that means all my usual tricks are out the window and we're purely mono. Even to the point of using a VSCO version HCB's favoured Tri-X film during my post work. Keeping it real.

Old Skool Manual.
Here's the biggy. All your latest lenses (and that iPhone in your pocket there) are now usually auto-focus, e.g the camera does the work for you - focusing on movement and then locking on to a certain area that's 'best'. In the case of my camera (Sony A7rII) it has fancy face detection and even eye detection meaning most of the time you'll get loads of crystal clear people shots.

Now, Henri didn't have this new fangled support. Nope, he just had a lovely Leica manual focus lens - where you rotate it until it's focused on what you want in focus. Which has obvious benefits if you're skilled in doing it, however, if you're a newbie like me it means you're having to focus while composing a shot, hence perhaps missing an action, face-pull or lovely moment. 

Basically, imagine your Dad's old car without power steering, sat nav etc and you'll get the idea - it's superficially harder, but you'll get more control and feel once you're used to it. I'm not.

The lens I'm using for this shoot is an old Olympus Zuiko Auto S 50 1.8, which with the advent of adapters means I can stick it onto my ultra modern Sony. Fun! 

My weapon of choice: the OM-System Zuiko Auto-S 50 mm f/ 1.8

My weapon of choice: the OM-System Zuiko Auto-S 50 mm f/ 1.8

So. 50mm manual lens. In mono. Let's go.

I only had a good hour or so to shoot due to the really quite cold weather (lame-o) but my findings were that I don't have a massive problem with only 50mm, and mono is no issue - albeit you have to 'see' in black and white, hence a slight hunt for high contrast backgrounds - but the biggest thing to get used to was manual focus. 

I missed loads of great moments due to having to compose and focus at the same time. However, I'm pretty sure it's something I could get used to, and it does in certain situations give you more control, plus there's a randomness I like - there were a couple of shots where I just turned and clicked and got focus on something more interesting than what I was intending. 

What would I say to sum up? It was a cool experiment and gave me an insight into the talent of photographers past who had less tech to help them and had to use their analytical brain along with the creative one to produce their art. Chapeau off to Mr Cartier-Bresson. 

Ok. So this has been a really long post, but let me know what you think on the images below! Bear in mind it was my first manual whirl so y'know... be kind.

Fin.