Sharpness

“Sharpness is a bourgeois concept.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson

I’m partly writing this post to comfort myself, because I am an expert at taking un-sharp photos, and thus I’m preparing myself to maybe post the blurry photos I took yesterday (I really need to invest in a proper tripod). I’m also writing it because I’m getting more and more interested in the history of photography and this is a funny side note I found while surfing websites in search of some of famous photographs.

As mentioned before I’ve been watching a documentary on photographic history, and find myself fascinated, hence the scouring of The Internetz for the photos. I felt I wanted to follow up some of the things I thought was inspiring or appealing.

I stumbled on a picture in a blog called Iconic Photos, and felt rather pleased with myself that I actually recognised it, because I wouldn’t have just a week ago.

It was great reading a bit about Henri Cartier-Bresson, but what I’ve spent way to much time on this evening is the link it referred to at the end of the blog post.

At one point someone posted the picture in a Flickr group for public criticism, where people vote if it should be deleted or not. But it was posted without any mention of its background or who took it. The poster named it “Mario’s Bike”.

Of course, hilarity ensues when some of the members in the group votes for it to be deleted because it’s too out of focus and un-interesting and badly composed and what-not. Helpful comments suggest for the photographer to try and use a tripod next time, should he have the chance to get a hold of Mario and take the photo again.

I mean, imagine some of the greatest and most influential photographers in history getting their work critiqued on today’s various Internet forums… (clicky)

After a few comments like that of course it’s revealed that this is an early photo taken by Cartier-Bresson, considered a classic, and the people who voted for it to get deleted gets slapped on the fingers for not knowing this. War commences.

Now: the first thing that I find interesting is how the act of posting this photo on Flickr in the way that it was done inspires such a great debate on the old “What is art?”. It really goes in all directions; it’s as heated as a debate on democracy.

The second thing is that the critique towards the photograph is the same as it was back when it was first taken. As a pioneer of photojournalism and being an advancing figure within the snapshot aesthetics and street photography, he faced the same assessment from his contemporaries.

But no matter what you think of the photograph, Cartier-Bressons did have a style that has influenced generations of photographers. He was part of a paradigm shift. He very decisively approached photography differently from those before him, he said: “I suddenly understood that a photograph could fix eternity in an instant”. He was the man who defined the decisive moment.He is a part of the canon.

For me I suspect itbecome art when it makes me think and wonder: “This made me feel something, how did this affect me?”. Personally I like the photograph very much. It does impress me and it does make an impression on me, because it makes me imagine the moment when the picture is being shot. Did he take it accidentally, on his way down the stairs? Did he stand there waiting for the right time? I like all the motion and the curves of the railing and the cobble stones. I find the perspective pleasing. And I don’t mind that there are no specifically extraordinary sharp spot to rest your eyes on. As Jason Wilson says: “the beauty just has to be enough”. (<– It’s a very good article, go read it).

All this makes me want to get out of the house more often with my camera, and there is no question about it: I will spend a lot of time taking blurry pictures. But maybe, sometimes, I will also catch something that might be worth keeping, even though it’s a bit un-sharp. Because if you don’t even try, in fear of failing, you’ll end up with a lot of nothing. I also feel I need to read “The Decisive Moment”. I think I must.

“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.”

Ansel Adams

I stumbled on a picture in a blog called Iconic Photos, and felt rather pleased with myself that I actually recognised it, because I wouldn’t have just a week ago. It was great reading a bit about Henri Cartier-Bresson, but what I’ve spent way to much time on this evening is the link it referred to at the end of the blog post.

2 thoughts on “Sharpness”

  1. I totally agree about the “art makes you feel something”-part!

    I like the photo too. The moment I saw it I felt lonley, abandoned, melancholy, I even felt like I was chasing after the person on the bike (even though I realise he’s just passing by).

    And yet it looks so simple…

  2. @Sara: I know what you mean, and isn’t it amazing that one photograph can give a sense of that many layers of emotion? And to think that there was actually a debate a 00 years ago about if photography was art or not. I wonder what we’ll consider art a 100 years from now…

    Hey, I remember you taking a lot of good photographs back in our early 20’s :)

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