Feature Article

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson ( 1908 – 2004 ) is regarded by many as one of the greatest photographers ever and often as the greatest ! Born into a comfortable family in Paris, he was educated at the Lycée Condorcet and spent some time studying Art at the Lhote Academy in Paris. with a year at the University of Cambridge in England. He was expected to enter the family textile business but, Henri had other ideas. During his period of conscription in the French Army he read Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. That led him to visit the Ivory Coast where, in order to survive, he hunted and although already a painter he perhaps did not realise where those hunting skills would lead.

Returning to France he recovered from illness and met artists of the, then, new Surrealist movement. He had developed as a painter but later maintained that while studying art André Lhote had taught him “photography without a camera”. During the 1930’s he worked with film director Jean Renoir who made him act in order that HC-B understand the experience of being the subject of the camera and not the film maker or photographer. In 1939 he joined the French Army and was captured during the summer of 1940. He escaped from a P.O.W. camp, got back to France and joined the underground movement. He also retrieved his Leica camera, which he had buried to keep it safe, and resumed photography to help the Allies.

After WWII and pursuing a career as a photo-journalist, HC-B changed the photographic world as one of the founders of the Magnum picture agency in 1947. He was not the only founding Magnum photographer with wartime experience. His colleague Robert Capa had photographed the Spanish Civil War and was one of the very, very, few photographers to have landed with allied troops in Normandy on D-Day, only to have his films largely destroyed in a darkroom in London. Only a few photographs could be rescued. He lost his life working for Life magazine in 1954 with French troops in Indochina and his story too is worthy of research. The website of Magnum Photos leads you to these ground breaking photographers.

HC-B travelled the globe photographing major events in history. He also became a specialist in candid photography. Photographing human interaction and activity yet with a style of shape and form almost unimaginable in what we now refer to as Street Photography. The term “decisive moment” is articulated from his philosophy, that instant in time where human behaviour is at its most expressive in conjunction with the surrounding topography the existence all of which the participants are completely unaware. They are unaware too that it is being photographed, which brings us back to those hunting skills. All done with a completely Manual 35mm film camera, the continuing wave of the new technology of the day. If you research no other photographer, research Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Pixel To Print

In this Digital Age of high resolution screens on computers, tablets and ‘phones we could be forgiven for thinking that the photographic Print is a thing of the past. After all, the convenience of these digital devices must be hard to beat ? Touch a few symbols, swipe left / right / up / down and we’re there, right ? Wrong ! A photographic Print has a life, a body and a soul. Even if, in this Digital Age etc etc., it has not been nursed through the fluid filled trays of Developer, Stop Bath and Fixer before being washed within an inch of its life those print characteristics of velvety blacks and pristine whites have a glow and an aesthetic unobtainable through the screens of electronic wizardry. Ink Jet prints, if you use a decent ink and paper, have that extra curricular waft of character. If you have a chemical Print then just remember, your great great great great grandchild could one day hold that same print.

In Falkirk C.C. the Print sections of our Monthly Competitions are as popular as ever. In these prints the photographer is seeking to communicate not just the subject matter of the image, but also the sense of wonder held within a sheet of paper. The image, perhaps a piece of sporting action, a landscape with a low sun highlighting the texture of the foliage or of a bird of prey feeding is in your hands. You can sense the tension, the serenity or the reality of nature. You can absorb how light, colour, shape and shadow combine to create a representation of life which you can hold, examine, and experience. Our club hold exhibitions in Falkirk Town Hall where others can visit and share that experience.

When William Henry Fox Talbot was formulating his Calotype process, which led to photographic film and then to digital imagery, the action of making the image permanent on the paper was a key challenge. It was probably Henry’s friend Sir John Herschel who suggested the chemical tweak that hastened the answer so perhaps, in some ways, it is JH whom we have to thank for our ability to examine photographs from the earliest days of photography but therein lies a conundrum. Photographs from every decade since the dawn of photography survive. You find them in Galleries, Museums and Collections as well as your own albums, cupboards and drawers. Conceivably, you might have photographs from the late 19th century, the breadth of the 20th century and perhaps even the early 21st century but, what then ? You might have photographs in the form of prints of your ancestors from Victorian times onwards but will your children and grandchildren have photographs of you ?

Think on it this way. There were several formats of Video Tape before we ended up with Betamax and VHS, did you lose any material as the devices to read them disappeared ? There have been umpteen different File formats and computer Operating Systems which continue to evolve at a blistering pace so, will your grandchildren and great grandchildren be able to read your files ? Perhaps it’s time to get some Prints made, on paper that will last !

60th Anniversary

On 23rd March 1889, an article in the Falkirk Herald reported the formation of the Falkirk Amateur Photographic Association, formed with the objective of advancing photographic art and science in the district. The group underwent various incarnations and name changes until 17th April 1958 when it became the Falkirk Camera Club which we know today.  The 2017 – 2018 series of meetings is therefore the 60th season of the group under that moniker and the hub of our activities although in celebrating that achievement we are also recognising the contribution of the many, often pioneering, photographers who led the group to that stage. During the 1890’s some of those photographers gathered at Callendar House to record, what are now,  the earliest surviving photographs of that first group. They are held in the local history archives at Callendar House. On Saturday 14th October 2017, a representation of Club members gathered at the same spot where those late 19th century photographs were taken. The photographs taken on that day will also go into the archives along with short biographies from some of the present day Club members.  We hope that this information will be of interest to the historians of future generations. In the meantime we wonder, will the technology of 23rd century photography be as different from todays technology, as ours is different from the 19th century ?

See History for more information

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