Exercise 5.3

Exercise 5.3

Look again at Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in Part Three. (If you can get to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London you can see an original print on permanent display in the Photography Gallery.) Is there a single element in the image that you could say is the pivotal ‘point’ to which the eye returns again and again? What information does this ‘point’ contain?

Include a short response to Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in your learning log. You can be as imaginative as you like. In order to contextualise your discussion you might want to include one or two of your own shots, and you may wish to refer to Rinko Kawauchi’s photograph mentioned above or the Theatres series by Hiroshi Sugimoto discussed in Part Three. Write about 150–300 words.

My Response:

I did, in fact travel to the Victoria and Albert Museum to view this particular photograph but sadly it was not to be found in the gallery. I did, however get to appreciate other works including that of Nan Goldin among others, so it certainly wasn’t a wasted trip.

Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare.

When studying this photograph, My immediate pivotal point is the correlation between the man jumping over the puddle and picture on the railings behind him in which it appears a dancer is leaping in the opposite direction.

John Berger said that “Seeing comes before words” so before I can contextualise my initial conclusion of the photograph with words, I focus on the leap. My eye drifts down and notices the reflections in the water. I do not, at this point consider more detail. I do not need to see facial expressions of the characters or what is beyond the edges of the picture or wonder about where the man is heading. It is as if they are both dancers within the frame. Without the need for extra details, I can still tell that these are opposing forms, travelling in opposite directions and one being feminine and the other masculine.

John Berger also talked about storytellers losing their identity and being open to the lives of other people. Cartier-Bresson was certainly a photographer who embodied this philosophy and his ability to experience the world from another person’s position within it and tell the stories of those people through his photographs is what makes them so interesting. You can become lost in another world and live that brief moment of the photograph as if you were there, standing within it. Your mind begins to tell the story, which may change, become more detailed or even lose it’s original conclusion the more you study it. I fill in the extra details the longer I linger on the picture. I notice the spectator behind the railings, I can see the time on the clock and I begin to wonder about how deep that water was and just how wet the man got as he attempted that impossible leap across the water.

So, as John Berger pointed out that the primary raw materials of photography were simply “light and time” you can see that photography’s conception is indeed simple, our mind is the thing that creates the complexities behind the pictures.

Thinking about these points and remembering that a story is basically a conclusion, when you look at Rinko Kawauchi’s photograph with these simplicities in mind, you can see that light and time still give your mind the information it needs to tell its “story”. Albeit a different one to the previous photograph. You can make out the flower without the need for detail, your eye focuses on the shape and the mind comes to it’s own interpretation of the image. Therefore a photograph need not be “properly exposed” or contain masses of information.

Rinko Kawauchi

References: 

  • John Berger – About Time: https://youtu.be/USzGCdoLhjQ
  • John Berger – British Library: https://youtu.be/6bqXuPAuihs
  • https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/dec/07/deutsche-borse-prize-photography-2012
  • Berger, J. (2013) Understanding a Photograph, Penguin Modern Classics