Straight after the shoot with Alp on a Tuesday, I would photograph Lara Alice on the Wednesday. She also knows all of the guys (Wil especially) and has a healthy interest in photography. I showed her the process and some of the plates that I did with the guys and we set to work. The BBC had predicted a foul day with nothing but rain, but we didn’t see any of that.
Our first plate did not come out well. It had the same dark spot as Alp’s test plate the day prior and the lighting did not favour her features, although the timing was good. I recalled a story told by one of my fellow wet-platers that he knew a beautiful girl that would not photograph well on plate, and sincerely hoped that would not be the case here. We made some changes with regards to the pose and location, which made a world of difference!
What I really loved about this shoot was not just Lara (although she was rather lovely) but having to think on your feet, and the fact that she looks so different in the various images. The images were taken on a no-brand 1/2 plate camera with a Dallmeyer lens, mostly on f5.6 between 8-12 seconds.
Alp was introduced to me through Calvin and later it turned out he is also friends with Wil and Varun. We would take out shoot in the afternoon and lucky for us, the weather was as beautiful as an October day could be, albeit a bit chilly.
The only plate that would not come out well from this session was our test plate, due to the pose being a bit ‘common’ and the plate had no real sparkle. Some small little tweaks and the second plate was a great improvement, but then he spotted the swords! Neither of us had anticipated him going bare-chested – it being quite nippy and all – but he went there! The portrait we took at a shady spot in the cemetery and I completely adore it – the pose, the light, the crispness…. all of it! Then, Alp kindly agreed to let me have a go at photographing his fangs and even though it did not fully work as intended, it was good practice. The last plate of the day however, steals the show in it’s sheer over-the-top-ness; I shall have to find a nice spot in my house to hang this one 😉
The images were taken on a wooden no-brand 1/2 plate camera using a Dallmeyer lens, mostly on f5.6 at around 8 seconds.
Just after the last wet plate weekend in the Peak District, I photographed two friends on consecutive days. They both know Calvin (see his shoot here) from their weight lifting club and Calvin had been kind enough to recommend me for a shoot.
On the Tuesday, It was Wil Solano. I have to admit I was pleased to meet him. A polite, intelligent and somewhat soft-spoken man, he seemed enthusiastic about the photographic process and his plates came out better than many I had tried before. Maybe it was because of the great weekend we have had recently, or maybe I am getting a bit better with timing, pouring etc. but also the fact that strong men with beards seem to capture well in this process. 🙂
On the Wednesday I would meet Varun Choda, a big fella, easy to smile with a good sense of humour, with an equally impressive beard. Maybe I shouldn’t be photographing people with beards – I’m having serious beard-envy! Can you believe that this guy is still single? I’m loving how the images we captured all seem to be a blast from the past – we started with a test plate with just his arms folded, which led to ‘you look like you should be holding a massive hammer’ to: ‘ I only have this one!’. He told me he likes art and to paint, so we did another version with brushes, which I believe came out better. His portrait came out as well as Wil’s the day before and he kindly agreed to sit for one last plate. He looked quite the sight in the middle of a cemetery sitting at a tiny table staring intently into the lens!
In the last weekend of August 2014, Tony Richards organised a social wet-plate gathering for all those from the UK and Ireland. Wet-plating would be optional, having a pint in the local pub would not be! 🙂
After packing my gear, I drove for nearly 3,5 hours to the Bank House Farm Campsite in Derbyshire where I would meet with Tony Richards, Marc Voce, Mark Scholey, John Kiely, John Brewer, Kate Horsley and Violet, Sam Christopher Cornwell, Guy Brown, Kevin Lunham, Moo Pa, Tim Ingmire, William Cameron, Tony Lovell, Simon Harbord and Ray Spence. (Sorry if I missed anyone). The Friday night was a bit miserable and the camera’s remained hidden, us photographers opting instead to head to the pub for a meal and some drinks till the early hours. The campsite proved fine, with plenty of space – with the only downside being the distance to the toilet and shower block, which was a 5 minute walk. The little river that ran by it was very pretty and proved a popular subject for the plates.
The Saturday started off with much of the same as the Friday, occasional showers both light and heavy, but we set up regardless and started shooting. The whole day would remain overcast and we finished up like the night before: in the pub with food and drink. I managed to shoot around 10-12 plates on the day, of which I will keep 2. I learned a lot about judging light and development times this day and will need to keep an eye on my continuous over-development of plates.
This was my first set-up, it took me about 5 tries to get the exposure about right. The light kept changing, with the sun towards the lens – so the spot between the trees burned out amazingly quickly. I am fairly happy with this plate as I tried tin typing for the first time and the material is remarkably easy to work with. Thanks to Kevin from Wet Plate Supplies (http://www.wetplatesupplies.com/) for hooking me up! This plate was shot at 25 seconds at about f5.6 – f8.
This was my second set-up. Again, it took me a few plates to get the exposure right, but the balance on this plate is definitely better. I believe I came to 2.5 minutes at f8. The subject and composition, unfortunately, are not great. I scanned it, but this plate might be wiped.
For my third set-up, I just turned the camera round and took the same exposure. It had a lot of lines over the top, that only showed when the plate was dry – which are not great – and I am not overly keen on the composition. I scanned it, but the plate will be wiped.
This plate was just a complete guess. I saw the scene and wanted to capture it, but ideally, I would have come closer to it. There was a river in the way though…. I took this at 20 seconds f5.6 – and overdeveloped by about 15 seconds due to underexposure. This plate might look OK now, but the plate is very low in contrast and needed a lot of help in Lightroom. It will be wiped.
The last set-up of the Saturday was, again, that little current in the river and the trees behind it. I love that I managed to get the timing right and for once I did not overdevelop. This image is taken on trophy aluminium and it has to be my favourite of the weekend.
The Sunday proved a little better on the weather front and despite some people having to pack and leave earlier due to driving distances or being kicked out of their plush B&B, most kept shooting till well after midday before packing up themselves. The winds had picked up, most dramatically when it decided to pick up Mark Voce’s marquee and ditch it over the roof of Tony’s marquee tent. That day, I managed to shoot about 5 plates, of which I would keep 2. Having shot the river with varying results, I directed my attention to some of the attendees of the weekend.
I asked John Kiely if I could photograph him in his van. Not amazingly original, but John is a patient man that proves a great subject. The first plate came out… odd, but it was not the first time I had seen this happening on one of my plates. Unless there had been an 8 second hail storm I failed to notice, it had to be a chemical issue. I remembered I had used the same funnel for both my fixer and my silver bath…. oops! I quickly filtered the silver and the second plate came out much better. It got hit straight into the lens by a stray ray of sun though, so it was very overexposed. The third one came out well enough – still a little overexposed at 8 seconds f5.6 – but we decided to leave it at that.
For my last plates, I asked Mark Scholey to pose for me. The first one coming out well overexposed, this one was much better – again 8 seconds at f5.6. Unfortunately for both me and him, he must have moved a slight! Oh well….
I would have loved to have had more time to shoot some of the other amazing people at the gathering, but it’ll have to wait till next time. I will be looking forward to it!
The images for Hylco and Emi’s wedding have been sent off and safely received, so I feel it would be safe to put a couple of the best images online.Those eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed some additions to the wedding page and I do have to admit I was quite pleased with the outcome of the full reportage. I have included a selection of the images below:
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Don’t forget you can book me to photograph your wedding – keep an eye out for updates and special offers!
Anyone that uses a computer and the internet these days will undoubtedly know about the vast quantity of images to be found online. Today, whilst I am trying to repair my laptop from a particularly nasty malware infection, I decided to revisit the photography sites I have bookmarked on my PC. My main goal is to find some inspiration on how to improve on my own site but when I was actually looking through the sites, I decided some of them are too good NOT to share. So here goes:
I was glad to see that my some-day picks of the online community did not disappoint. The first page that opened is a fantastic collection by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre which displays architectural ruin, abandoned Read more
Philppe Halsman was born on the 2nd of May, 1906 in Riga to a Jewish family of Morduch (Max) Halsman, a dentist, and Ita Grintuch, a grammar school principal. Halsman studied electrical engineering in Dresden. In September 1928, Halsman went on a hiking tour in the Austrian Alps with his father, Morduch. During this tour, Morduch died from severe head injuries. The circumstances were never completely clarified and Halsman was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for patricide. The case provoked anti-Jewish propaganda and thus gained international publicity, and Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann wrote in support of Halsman. Halsman was released in 1931, under the condition that he left Austria for good, never to return.
Halsman left for France. He began contributing to fashion magazines such as Vogue and soon gained a reputation as one of the best portrait photographers in France, renowned for his sharp, and closely cropped images that shunned the old soft focus look. When France was invaded, Halsman fled to Marseille and he eventually managed to obtain a U.S. visa, aided by his family friend Albert Einstein.
In America, he had his first success when the cosmetics firm Elizabeth Arden used his image of model Constance Ford against the American flag in an advertising campaign for “Victory Red” lipstick. A year later, in 1942, he found work with Life, photographing hat designs, one of which, a portrait of a model in a Lilly Daché hat, was his first of the many covers he would do for Life.
In 1947, he made what was to become one of his most famous photos of a mournful Albert Einstein, who during the photography session recounted his regrets about his role in the United States pursuing the atomic bomb. The photo would later be used in 1966 on a U.S. postage stamp and in 1999, on the cover of Time, when Time dubbed Einstein as “Person of the Century.”
In 1951, Halsman was commissioned by NBC to photograph various popular comedians of the time including Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Groucho Marx, and Bob Hope. While photographing the comedians doing their acts, he captured many of the comedians in mid air, which went on to inspire many later jump pictures of celebrities including the Ford family, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Marilyn Monroe, María Félix and Richard Nixon. Halsman commented, “When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears.”
Other celebrities photographed by Halsman include Alfred Hitchcock, Martin and Lewis, Judy Garland, Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, Dorothy Dandridge, and Pablo Picasso. Many of those photographs appeared on the cover of Life. In 1952, John F. Kennedy had two photograph sittings by Halsman. The result was that one photograph from the first sitting appeared on the jacket of the original edition of Profiles in Courage. In the second sitting a photograph was used in the senatorial campaign.
In 1958 Halsman was listed in Popular Photography’s “World’s Ten Greatest Photographers”, and in 1975 he received the Life Achievement in Photography Award from the American Society of Magazine Photographers. He also held numerous large exhibitions worldwide.
He passed away in New York, on the 25th of June, 1979.
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Lewis Wickes Hine was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin on the 26th of September, 1874. After his father died in an accident, he began working and saved his money for a college education. He studied sociology at the University of Chicago, Columbia University and New York University and then became a teacher in New York City at the Ethical Culture School, where he encouraged his students to use photography as an educational medium. The classes traveled to Ellis Island in New York Harbor, photographing the thousands of immigrants who arrived each day. Between 1904 and 1909, Hine took over 200 photographic plates, and eventually came to the realization that documentary photography could be employed as a tool for social change and reform.
In 1906, Hine became the staff photographer of the Russell Sage Foundation. Here Hine photographed life in the steel-making districts and people of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the influential sociological study called the Pittsburgh Survey. In 1908, he became the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), leaving his teaching position. Over the next decade, Hine documented child labor, with focus on labor in the Carolina Piedmont,in American industry to aid the NCLC’s lobbying efforts to end the practice.
During and after World War I, he photographed American Red Cross relief work in Europe. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Hine made a series of “work portraits,” which emphasized the human contribution to modern industry. In 1930, Hine was commissioned to document the construction of The Empire State Building. Hine photographed the workers in precarious positions while they secured the iron and steel framework of the structure, taking many of the same risks the workers endured. In order to obtain the best vantage points, Hine was swung out in a specially designed basket 1,000 feet above Fifth Avenue.
He would work again for the Red Cross, this time during the Great Depression photographing drought relief in the American South, and for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), documenting life in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. He also served as chief photographer for the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) National Research Project, which studied changes in industry and their effect on employment. Hine was also a member of the faculty of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School.
In 1936, Hine was selected as the photographer for the National Research Project of the Works Projects Administration, but his work there was never completed.
The last years of his life were filled with professional struggles due to loss of government and corporate patronage. Few people were interested in his work, past or present, and Hine lost his house and applied for welfare. He died at age 66 on November 3, 1940 at Dobbs Ferry Hospital in Dobbs Ferry, New York, after an operation. After Lewis Hine’s death his son Corydon donated his prints and negatives to the Photo League, which was dismantled in 1951. The Museum of Modern Art was offered his pictures but did not accept them; but the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York did.
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Today one of the great female photographers: Julia Margaret Cameron. Seeing some of her works is like stepping back into Pre-Raefaelite times with soft-focused maidens in limp-limbed poses drifting on an ocean of dreams, whilst others are immaculate portraits of great emotion and beauty. I personally am a great admirer of her work as it appeals to my sense of esthetics, although I find I pull directly away from this style in my own photography.
Julia Margaret Cameron was born Julia Margaret Pattle in 1815 in Calcutta, India, to James Pattle, a British official of the East India Company, and Adeline de l’Etang, a daughter of French aristocrats as one of three girls. From a family of celebrated beauties, and was considered an ugly duckling among her sisters. She was educated in France, but returned to India, and in 1838 married Charles Hay Cameron, a jurist and member of the Law Commission stationed in Calcutta, who was twenty years her senior. In 1848, Charles Hay Cameron retired, and the family moved to London, England. In 1860, Cameron visited the estate of poet Alfred Lord Tennyson on the Isle of Wight. Julia was taken with the location, and the Cameron family purchased a property on the island soon after. They called it Dimbola Lodge after the family’s Ceylon estate.
In 1863, when Cameron was 48 years old, her daughter gave her a camera as a present, thereby starting her career as a photographer. Within a year, Cameron became a member of the Photographic Societies of London and Scotland. In her photography, Cameron strove to capture beauty. She wrote, “I longed to arrest all the beauty that came before me and at length the longing has been satisfied.”
The basic techniques of soft-focus “fancy portraits”, which she later developed, were taught to her by David Wilkie Wynfield. She later wrote that “to my feeling about his beautiful photography I owed all my attempts and indeed consequently all my success” Cameron was sometimes obsessive about her new occupation, with subjects sitting for countless exposures in the blinding light as she laboriously coated, exposed, and processed each wet plate. The results were, in fact, unconventional in their intimacy and their particular visual habit of created blur through both long exposures, where the subject moved and by leaving the lens intentionally out of focus. This led some of her contemporaries to complain and even ridicule the work, but her friends and family were supportive, and she was one of the most prolific and advanced of amateurs in her time. Her enthusiasm for her craft meant that her children and others sometimes tired of her endless photographing, but it also means that we are left with some of the best of records of her children and of the many notable figures of the time who visited her.
She was a member of the Arundel Society, which has been set up in the 1850s to promote knowledge of art by means or high-quality reproductions. Participation in this society might have given her the idea of making and distributing her own art. She arranged for a London dealer Colnaghi to sell her prints and intended to revive her family fortunes. Cameron would take pictures for the next 10 years – mainly portraits drawn from the Bible and the writings of Milton and Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Cameron’s sister ran the artistic scene at Little Holland House, which gave her many famous subjects for her portraits. Some of her famous subjects include: Charles Darwin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, John Everett Millais, William Michael Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Ellen Terry and George Frederic Watts. Most of these distinctive portraits are cropped closely around the subject’s face and are in soft focus. Cameron was often friends with these Victorian celebrities, and tried to capture their personalities in her photos.During her career, Cameron registered each of her photographs with the copyright office and kept detailed records. Her shrewd business sense is one reason that so many of her works survive today. Another reason that many of Cameron’s portraits are significant is because they are often the only existing photograph of historical figures. Many paintings and drawings exist, but, at the time, photography was still a new and challenging medium for someone outside a typical portrait studio.
In 1859 Tennyson published four Idylls of the King, long poems on topics around King Arthur. Cameron’s friendship with Tennyson led to him asking her to photograph the illustrations to go with the publication. These photographs are designed to look like oil paintings from the same time period, including rich details like historical costumes and intricate draperies. Today, these posed works are sometimes dismissed by art critics. Nevertheless, Cameron saw these photographs as art, just like the oil paintings they imitated.
In 1875 the Camerons returned to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) where they still owned a plantation. Julia continued to practice photography but complained in letters about the difficulties of getting chemicals and pure water to develop and print photographs. Also, in India, she did not have access to Little Holland House’s artistic community. She also did not have a market to distribute her photographs as she had in England. Because of this, Cameron took fewer pictures in India. These pictures were of posed Indian people, paralleling the posed pictures that Cameron had taken of neighbors in England. Almost none of Cameron’s work from India survives. Cameron caught a bad chill and died in Kalutara, Ceylon in 1879.
Cameron’s niece Julia Prinsep Stephen (née Jackson; 1846–1895) wrote the biography of Cameron, which appeared in the first edition of the Dictionary of National Biography, 1886.Julia Stephen was the mother of Virginia Woolf, who wrote a comic portrayal of the “Freshwater circle” in her only play Freshwater. Woolf edited, with Roger Fry, a collection of Cameron’s photographs. However, it was not until 1948 that her photography became more widely known when Helmut Gernsheim wrote a book on her work. In 1977 Gernsheim noted that although a great photographer, Cameron had “left no mark” on the aesthetic history of Photography because her work was not appreciated by her contemporaries and thus not imitated. But this situation was evidently already changing by then thanks to his popularization of her work, for instance in 1975 Imogen Cunningham had commented “I’d like to see portrait photography go right back to Julia Margaret Cameron. I don’t think there’s anyone better.”
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Diane Arbus was born as Diane Nemerov to David Nemerov and Gertrude Russek Nemerovon the 14th of March 1923. She had a younger sister who would become a sculptor and designer and an older brother, Howard Nemerov, who would later become United States Poet Laureate, and the father of the Americanist art historian Alexander Nemerov. The Nemerovs were a Jewish couple who lived in New York City and owned Russek’s, a famous Fifth Avenue department store and Diane’s father had employed the likes of Mathew Brady, Timothy O’Sullivan, Paul Strand, Bill Brandt, and Eugène Atget to take photographs for the store’s advertisements.
Diane attended the Fieldston School for Ethical Culture, a prep school and at the age of eighteen, she married her childhood sweetheart Allan Arbus. Their first daughter Doon (who would later become a writer), was born in 1945 and their second daughter Amy (who would later become a photographer), was born in 1954. Allan and Diane were to be separated in 1958 and divorced in 1969.
In 1946, after the war, the Arbuses had began a commercial photography business called “Diane & Allan Arbus,” with Diane as art director and Allan as the photographer.They contributed to Glamour, Seventeen, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and other magazines even though “they both hated the fashion world.”Despite over 200 pages of their fashion editorial in Glamour, and over 80 pages in Vogue, the Arbuses’ fashion photography has been described as of “middling quality.” In 1956, Diane Arbus quit the commercial photography business. Although earlier she had studied photography with Berenice Abbott, her studies with Lisette Model, beginning in 1956, led to Arbus’s most well-known methods and style. She began photographing on assignment for magazines such as Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, and The Sunday Times Magazine in 1959. Around 1962, Arbus switched from a 35mm Nikon camera which produced grainy rectangular images to a twin-lens reflex Rolleiflex camera which produced more detailed square images. In 1963, Arbus was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for a project on “American rites, manners, and customs”; the fellowship was renewed in 1966. In 1964, Arbus began using a twin-lens reflex Mamiya camera with flash in addition to the Rolleiflex. Her methods included establishing a strong personal relationship with her subjects and re-photographing some of them over many years.
During the 1960s, she taught photography at the Parsons School of Design and the Cooper Union in New York City, and the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. The first major exhibition of her photographs occurred at the Museum of Modern Art in a 1967 show called “New Documents,” curated by John Szarkowski. The show also featured the work of Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander. Some of her artistic work was done on assignment. Although she continued to photograph on assignment (e.g., in 1968 she shot documentary photographs of poor sharecroppers in rural South Carolina for Esquire magazine), in general her magazine assignments decreased as her fame as an artist increased. Szarkowski hired Arbus in 1970 to research an exhibition on photojournalism called “From the Picture Press”; it included many photographs by Weegee whose work Arbus admired.
Using softer light than in her previous photography, she took a series of photographs in her later years of people with intellectual disability showing a range of emotions. At first, Arbus considered these photographs to be “lyric and tender and pretty,” but by June, 1971, she told Lisette Model that she hated them.
Associating with other contemporary photographers such as Robert Frank and Saul Leiter, Arbus helped form what Jane Livingston has termed The New York School of photographers during the 1940s and 1950s. Among other photographers and artists she befriended during her career, she was close to photographer Richard Avedon; he was approximately the same age, his family had also run a Fifth Avenue department store, and many of his photographs were also characterized as detailed frontal poses. Another good friend was Marvin Israel, an artist, graphic designer, and art director whom Arbus met in 1959.
Arbus experienced “depressive episodes” during her life similar to those experienced by her mother, and the episodes may have been made worse by symptoms of hepatitis. Arbus wrote in 1968, “I go up and down a lot,” and her ex-husband noted that she had “violent changes of mood.”On July 26, 1971, while living at Westbeth Artists Community in New York City, Arbus took her own life by ingesting barbiturates and slashing her wrists with a razor. Marvin Israel found her body in the bathtub two days later; she was 48 years old.
After Arbus’s death, her daughter Doon managed Arbus’s estate. She forbade examination of Arbus’s correspondence and often denied permission for exhibition or reproduction of Arbus’s photographs. The editors of an academic journal published a two-page complaint in 1993 about the estate’s control over Arbus’s images and its attempt to censor part of an article about Arbus. As of 2000, the estate would not release Arbus’s 1957 to 1965 images of transgender people. A 2005 article called the estate’s allowing the British press to reproduce only fifteen photographs an attempt to “control criticism and debate.”The estate was also criticized in 2008 for minimizing Arbus’s early commercial work.
Still, her work has been shown in a fair number of exhibitions and her life discussed in books and documentaries and has invited a wide range of criticisms.
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Today part 3/5 on the founders of the Magnum photographic agency, Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Henri Cartier-Bresson was born on the 22nd of August 1908 in Chanteloup-en-Brie, Seine-et-Marne, France, as the oldest of five children. His father was a wealthy textile manufacturer, his mother’s family were cotton merchants and landowners from Normandy, where he spent part of his childhood. The Cartier-Bresson family lived in a bourgeois neighborhood in Paris and were able to provide him with financial support to develop his interests in photography in a more independent manner than many of his contemporaries.
As a young boy, Cartier-Bresson owned a Box Brownie, using it for taking holiday snapshots; he later experimented with a 3×4 inch view camera. He was introduced to oil painting by his uncle Louis, but the lessons were were cut short when said uncle died in World War I. He attended École Fénelon, a Catholic school that prepared students to attend Lycée Condorcet, one of the best secondary school in France.
In 1927, Cartier-Bresson entered a private art school and the Lhote Academy, the Parisian studio of the Cubist painter and sculptor André Lhote. Lhote took his pupils to the Louvre to study classical artists and to Parisian galleries to study contemporary art. Cartier-Bresson’s interest in modern art was combined with an admiration for the works of the Renaissance—of masterpieces of Jan van Eyck, Paolo Uccello, Masaccio and Piero della Francesca. Cartier-Bresson often regarded Lhote as his teacher of “photography without a camera.”
Although Cartier-Bresson gradually began to get restless under Lhote’s “rule-laden” approach to art, his rigorous theoretical training would later help him to confront and resolve problems of artistic form and composition in photography. In the 1920s, schools of photographic realism were popping up throughout Europe, but each had a different view on the direction photography should take. Cartier-Bresson became very interested in the The Surrealist movement (founded in 1924). The historian Peter Galassi explains:
The Surrealists approached photography … with a voracious appetite for the usual and unusual…The Surrealists recognized in plain photographic fact an essential quality that had been excluded from prior theories of photographic realism. They saw that ordinary photographs, especially when uprooted from their practical functions, contain a wealth of unintended, unpredictable meanings.
Cartier-Bresson matured artistically in this stormy cultural and political environment. He was aware of the concepts and theories mentioned, but could not find a way of expressing this imaginatively in his paintings. He was very frustrated with his experiments and subsequently destroyed the majority of his early works.
From 1928 to 1929, Cartier-Bresson attended the University of Cambridge, where he studied English, art and literature, and became bilingual. In 1930, stationed at Le Bourget, near Paris, he completed his mandatory service in the French Army. A few years after he travelled to the Ivory Coast, surviving by hunting and selling the kills. Although he took a portable camera (smaller than a Brownie Box) with him, only seven photographs survived the tropics.
The photograph ‘Three Boys at Lake Tanganyika’ by Martin Munkacsi inspired him to stop painting and to take up photography seriously. He explained, “I suddenly understood that a photograph could fix eternity in an instant.” He acquired the Leica camera with 50 mm lens in Marseilles that would accompany him for many years. He described the Leica as an extension of his eye. The anonymity that the small camera gave him in a crowd or during an intimate moment was essential in overcoming the formal and unnatural behavior of those who were aware of being photographed. He enhanced his anonymity by painting all shiny parts of the Leica with black paint. The Leica opened up new possibilities in photography — the ability to capture the world in its actual state of movement and transformation. He said, “I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, ready to ‘trap’ life.”He photographed in Berlin, Brussels, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest and Madrid. It would be years before he photographed in his native France extensively.
In 1934 Cartier-Bresson met a young Polish intellectual, a photographer named David Szymin who was called “Chim” because his name was difficult to pronounce. Szymin later changed his name to David Seymour. Through Chim, Cartier-Bresson met a Hungarian photographer named Endré Friedmann, who later changed his name to Robert Capa. The three shared a studio in the early 1930s and Capa mentored Cartier-Bresson,
“Don’t keep the label of a surrealist photographer. Be a photojournalist. If not you will fall into mannerism. Keep surrealism in your little heart, my dear. Don’t fidget. Get moving!”
Cartier-Bresson travelled to the United States in 1935 with an invitation to exhibit his work at New York’s Julien Levy Gallery. He shared display space with fellow photographers Walker Evans and Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Carmel Snow of Harper’s Bazaar, gave him a fashion assignment, but he fared poorly since he had no idea how to direct or interact with the models. Nevertheless, Snow was the first American editor to publish Cartier-Bresson’s photographs in a magazine.
Cartier-Bresson’s first photojournalistic photos to be published came in 1937 when he covered the coronation of King George VI, for the French weekly Regards. He focused on the new monarch’s adoring subjects lining the London streets, and took no pictures of the king. His photo credit read “Cartier”, as he was hesitant to use his full family name.
In 1937, Cartier-Bresson married a Javanese dancer, Ratna Mohini. They lived in a fourth-floor servants’ flat at in Paris at 19, rue Danielle Casanova, a large studio with a small bedroom, kitchen and bathroom where Cartier-Bresson developed film. Between 1937 and 1939 Cartier-Bresson worked as a photographer for the French Communists’ evening paper, Ce Soir. With Chim and Capa, Cartier-Bresson was a leftist, but he did not join the French Communist party.
When World War II broke out in September 1939, he joined the French Army as a Corporal in the Film and Photo unit. During the Battle of France, in June 1940 at St. Dié in the Vosges Mountains, he was captured by German soldiers and spent 35 months in prisoner-of-war camps doing forced labour under the Nazis. He twice tried and failed to escape from the prison camp, and was punished by solitary confinement. His third escape was successful and he hid on a farm in Touraine before getting false papers that allowed him to travel in France. In France, he worked for the underground, aiding other escapees and working secretly with other photographers to cover the Occupation and then the Liberation of France. In 1943, he dug up his beloved Leica camera, which he had buried in farmland near Vosges.
In spring 1947, Cartier-Bresson, with Robert Capa, David Seymour, and George Rodger founded Magnum Photos. Capa’s brainchild, Magnum was a cooperative picture agency owned by its members. The team split photo assignments among the members. Rodger, who had quit Life in London after covering World War II, would cover Africa and the Middle East. Chim, who spoke most European languages, would work in Europe. Cartier-Bresson would be assigned to India and China. Vandivert, who had also left Life, would work in America, and Capa would work anywhere that had an assignment. Maria Eisner managed the Paris office and Rita Vandivert, Vandivert’s wife, managed the New York office and became Magnum’s first president. Magnum’s mission was to “feel the pulse” of the times and some of its first projects were People Live Everywhere, Youth of the World, Women of the World and The Child Generation. Magnum aimed to use photography in the service of humanity, and provided arresting, widely viewed images.
In 1952, Cartier-Bresson published his book Images à la sauvette, whose English edition was titled The Decisive Moment. It included a portfolio of 126 of his photos from the East and the West. The book’s cover was drawn by Henri Matisse. For his 4,500-word philosophical preface, Cartier-Bresson took his keynote text from the 17th century Cardinal de Retz:
“Il n’y a rien dans ce monde qui n’ait un moment decisif” (“There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment”).
Cartier-Bresson applied this to his photographic style. He said:
“Photographier: c’est dans un même instant et en une fraction de seconde reconnaître un fait et l’organisation rigoureuse de formes perçues visuellement qui expriment et signifient ce fait” (“Photography is simultaneously and instantaneously the recognition of a fact and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that express and signify that fact”).
“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,” he said. “Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”
Capa died in 1954 after stepping on a land mine in Indo-China, and Chim was shot in Egypt two years later. Cartier-Bresson’s photography took him to many places on the globe—China, Mexico, Canada, the United States, India, Japan, Soviet Union and many other countries. He became the first Western photographer to photograph “freely” in the post-war Soviet Union. Cartier-Bresson withdrew as a principal of Magnum (which still distributed his photographs) in 1966 to concentrate on portraiture and landscapes. In 1967, he was divorced from his first wife of 30 years, Ratna “Elie”. In 1968, he began to turn away from photography and return to his passion for drawing and painting. He admitted that perhaps he had said all he could through photography. He married Magnum photographer Martine Franck, thirty years younger than himself, in 1970. The couple had a daughter, Mélanie, in May 1972.
Cartier-Bresson retired from photography in the early 1970s and by 1975 no longer took pictures other than an occasional private portrait; he said he kept his camera in a safe at his house and rarely took it out. He returned to drawing and painting.
In 2003, he created the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation with his wife and daughter to preserve and share his legacy.
Cartier-Bresson died in Montjustin (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France) on August 3, 2004, at age 95. No cause of death was announced. He was buried in the cemetery of Montjustin, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France. He was survived by his wife, Martine Franck, and daughter, Mélanie.
Cartier-Bresson exclusively used Leica 35 mm rangefinder cameras equipped with normal 50 mm lenses or occasionally a wide-angle for landscapes. He often wrapped black tape around the camera’s chrome body to make it less conspicuous. With fast black and white films and sharp lenses, he was able to photograph almost by stealth to capture the events. No longer bound by a huge 4×5 press camera or an awkward medium format twin-lens reflex camera, miniature-format cameras gave Cartier-Bresson what he called “the velvet hand [and] the hawk’s eye.” He never photographed with flash, a practice he saw as “[i]mpolite…like coming to a concert with a pistol in your hand.”
He believed in composing his photographs in the viewfinder, not in the darkroom. He showcased this belief by having nearly all his photographs printed only at full-frame and completely free of any cropping or other darkroom manipulation.
Cartier-Bresson worked exclusively in black and white, other than a few unsuccessful attempts in color. He disliked developing or making his own prints.He said: “I’ve never been interested in the process of photography, never, never. Right from the beginning. For me, photography with a small camera like the Leica is an instant drawing.”
The simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression… . In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little human detail can become a leitmotif.
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I have come across this photographer many times now since I’ve buried myself neck-deep into vintage photography. The images he created in the first half of the 20th Century are soft, elegant and feminine – and I personally love them!
Adolph de Meyer was reportedly born in Paris on the 1st of September 1868, the son of a German Jewish father and Scottish mother—Adolphus Louis Meyer and his wife, the former Adele Watson. He was educated in Dresden and in 1893 he joined the Royal Photographic Society and moved to London in 1895.
He used the surnames Meyer, von Meyer, de Meyer, de Meyer-Watson, and Meyer-Watson at various times in his life. From 1897 he was known as Baron Adolph Edward Sigismond de Meyer, though some contemporary sources list him as Baron Adolph von Meyer and Baron Adolph de Meyer-Watson. Where he got his title ‘Baron’ from is uncertain as some sources claim it had been granted in 1897 by Frederick Augustus III of Saxony, others claim he inherited it from his grandfather in the 1890’s or even state that there is no evidence of this nobiliary creation whatsoever.
On 25 July 1899 de Meyer married Donna Olga Caracciolo, an Italian noblewoman who had been divorced earlier that year from Nobile Marino Brancaccio; she was a goddaughter of Edward VII. The couple reportedly met in 1897, at the home of a member of the Sassoon banking family, and Olga would be the subject of many of her husband’s photographs. The de Meyers’ marriage was one of marriage of convenience rather than romantic love, since the groom was homosexual and the bride was bisexual or lesbian. As Baron de Meyer wrote in an unpublished autobiographical novel, before they wed, he explained to Olga “the real meaning of love shorn of any kind of sensuality”.
On the outbreak of World War I, the de Meyers moved to New York City on the advise of an astrologer, where he became a photographer for Vogue from 1913–21, and for Vanity Fair. In 1922 de Meyer accepted an offer to become the Harper’s Bazaar chief photographer in Paris, spending the next 16 years there. After the death of his wife in 1930/31, Baron de Meyer became romantically involved with a young German, Ernest Frohlich (born circa 1914), whom he hired as his chauffeur and later adopted as his son.
On the eve of World War II in 1938, de Meyer returned to the United States, and found that he was a relic in the face of the rising modernism of his art. He died in Los Angeles on the 6th of January 1949, his death being registered as ‘Gayne Adolphus Demeyer, writer (retired)’.
Today, few of his prints survive, most having been destroyed during World War II. He will be remembered for his elegant photographic portraits in the early 20th century, many of which depicted celebrities such as Mary Pickford, Rita Lydig, Luisa Casati, Billie Burke, Irene Castle, John Barrymore, Lillian Gish, Ruth St. Denis, King George V of the United Kingdom, and Queen Mary.
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