Synthesis: Draft

Berenice Abbott, 'Father Duffy, Times Square'
Berenice Abbott, ‘Father Duffy, Times Square’

In my synthesis I will discuss Berenice Abbotts image ‘Father Duffy, Times Square’ (1929-1939) in relation to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘The Decisive Moment’ which is based on Cartier-Bresson’s personal journey in developing his photography work and he also expresses how he thinks photographs should be composed. I was interested in pairing this particular text with my image as in my research of the image I found out that it was taken very quickly, in a rush, but not on purpose and this is what HCB (Henri Cartier-Bresson) thought was a ‘failed’ photograph.

HCB believed that you should get the image correct in the frame of the camera before clicking the shutter release, and not during post-production. Comparing what was written in 1952 to the present day I feel disappointed in how much we edit our images after we have taken them, the importance of getting the image correct in the camera seems to be long gone as people can snap away without worry of running out of shots. Although I found that this quote was timeless to how we take photographs today [1]“you find yourself compulsively shooting, because you cannot be sure in advance exactly how the situation, the scene, is going to unfold.” As photographers you cannot be quite sure if you are missing a moment or not and so there is a reluctance to move your eye away from your camera.

Berenice Abbott’s image was taken in a rush and so she did not get the image that she wanted, yet she still submitted the image into her series ‘Changing New York’. Abbott wrote about why she did not get the photograph that she wanted [2]“A policeman came and said I was creating a nuisance and suggested I move on. I took one hurried version but was intimidated by the policeman and the crowd.” The crowd had gathered around Abbott as she was laughing at the statue covered with blue cloth [3]“I wanted to try other angles, showing the signs and background better. But I just packed up my bags and left.” Here we see that Abbott had the intention of following out with thinking about her composition but through social circumstances she was unable to complete what she had started. In Richard Pare’s book ‘Photography and Architecture’ he wrote that [4]“Photography is an art of failure in which success is measured against unattempted images…” It is all the images that we never took that play on the photographer’s mind. The photographer is [5]“…never able to wind the scene backward in order to photograph it all over again.” This is why HCB thought that it was important to compose the image within the frame before taking the image, as it will not likely happen in the exact same way again. The photograph is much about timing and getting the right moment, the right light and the right time of day, there are so many elements that can go wrong.

In conclusion HCB’s concept of composition can not always go to plan as there are social aspects that can go wrong, as Berenice Abbott found with her image; due to circumstance there are things that will not allow you to take the time that you need to compose your image the way that you want to.

[1] Cartier-Bresson, Henri (1952) ‘The Decisive Moment’, New York, Simon and Schuster

[2] Abbott, Berenice (1982) ‘Berenice Abbott Sixty Years of Photography’, London, Thames and Hudson Ltd pg. 135

[3] Abbott, Berenice (1982) ‘Berenice Abbott Sixty Years of Photography’, London, Thames and Hudson Ltd pg. 135

[4] Pare, Richard (1982) ‘Photography and Architecture: 1839-1939’ Canadian Centre of Architecture

[5] Cartier-Bresson, Henri (1952) ‘The Decisive Moment’, New York, Simon and Schuster


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