Ian McNab’s talk tonight about the compositional secrets of the great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was fascinating, a revelation.
He explained how the lines of construction which artists have used since the 15th century were imprinted on Henri’s mind from his childhood training as a painter. These were applied – perhaps subconsciously – by Henri when he took up photography. Ian was able to show, with numerous examples, how Henri’s pictures follow these lines with uncanny accuracy.
Of course his on the fly high speed picture making doesn’t fit with the idea that a rigid structure was followed but that structure will have been imprinted and followed instinctively.
Ian put all this over in a very clear and compelling fashion.
It certainly deepened our appreciation of HCB’s work and whilst we do not have the benefit of this structure being practically hard-wired into us as they were in him we can think about certain features such as diagonal lines and dividing the picture up into sections which will help improve our composition.
The talk was full of little insights into the way that Henri worked which are helpful to us – this is a good reason to be looking back at the work of the pastmasters of photography, we can learn a great deal, quite apart from enjoying some great, enduring, resonant work.