“Photography is putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis” Henri Cartier Bresson
I do love this quote. Not only does it summarise my view of photography beautifully, it has also been the inspiration and backbone of my online course ‘The Mindful Photographer’.
Henri Cartier Bresson was a French photographer who is generally regarded as the father of photojournalism. He was an early user of 35mm, which with his rangefinder Leica and 50mm lens attached allowed him to develop his candid style of street photography. He is perhaps most famous for coining the phrase ‘the decisive moment’, to describe the optimum time to press the shutter.
This quote neatly encapsulates the key aspects of outstanding photography and is worthy of a brief analysis.
What we see through our eyes is light and colour. Our eyes do not know what it is that they see. In that way they are very much like the camera, they record the light, they do not label what they see.
Our eyes also see like a combination of two lenses. They have a focal length similar to a 50mm lens, but with far wider angle of view. Our peripheral vision gives us the view similar to a fish eye lens – but without the severe distortion.
All of this sensory information is passed instantaneously to the brain, and that is where the trouble starts!
By head, we mean the role of the mind in photography. Its primary purpose is to interpret all of the visual information provided by the eyes. This is to keep us safe, identifying potential threats and potential sources of food. Except when we train to be photographers all of that identification and labelling can get in the way of seeing what is really in front of us.
The features before us are the light, colours, shapes, forms, lines, patterns and textures. Our mind receives this visual information and in a snap compares this to known similar visual data and labels the object(s). All very useful on the Serengeti Plains when out hunting. But as a photographer hunting a great photo it is the features that we need to see before the label. For it is this that will guide our artistic creation through compositional choice.
So how can we learn to forget the names of what we see and truly see everything, and every possibility? Practice. In The Mindful Photographer I share some practices that can help to develop this ability.
The heart is used here to signify the emotion of a photograph. If we are to create photographs that rise above the ‘good’ to be ‘great’ we need to engage the heart. Both ours and the viewers. How can we do that? Guess what, I share some of the foundations of how photographers first attempted to do this, and some useful mindful practices to support your development as photographers in my online course.