Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Impassioned Eye (2003) Script

The joy of geometry - when you realize everything is right.

Such regularity.

I've never been able to enlarge a photograph.

I have friends who do it, and I trust them.

I'm just interested in the shot.

A little lighter this one.

That is beautiful enlarged.

It wasn't easy. What patience, and that is what you need.

You're patient too.

No, it's actually impatience.

Who said years ago, he told photograpers to aim wild, shoot fast and scram... the faster the better.

I took this book along to Jean Renoir in 1936.

I showed him my pictures and asked him for a job.

That's how I became his second assistant.

Beckett was the first one and I was the second.

He wanted to look all of them one by one The facial expression.

The attitude.

The motion of the hands and feet.

Photographs can be very mysterious.

There is a deep mysterious link between the people and things around them.

You picture their lives, what they're about to do.

What they've done or where they're going.

I remember him saying about someone, he thinks he is a great photographer.

How can he?

He just have to live and then life will give you pictures.

You can't live for photography.

You have to take pictures because it fills you with life. That's Henri.

Pure coincidence.

I was standing on a bridge, for that moment everything fell into place.

But only for a split of second.

That is photography. You have to seize the moment.

Like here.

That's the joy of taking pictures. Yes, no, yes, no, yes.

That is sacred music.

Life, death, everything. Pure bliss.

Here it is!

It's one of the first pictures I've seen.

Which gave me an idea about what you can do.

About how you can get a good picture without models, without artifice, without anything... but by just simple observation.

And it's the first time that I...

...remember thinking that you really don't have to know too much in order to be a photographer.

What you need to do is simply to look.

Incredible. It's like a picture of a dream.

As if you were dreaming a void of intersecting lines.

And then suddenly, at night, you hear the sound of an approaching carriage.

It is full of meaning, but you can't explain it.

You don't know where it's going or where it's coming from.

A single instant can reveal all the ambiguity of visible.

A great photo has a musical feel to it.

It's the feeling that counts.

It's hard to analyze because it's beyond words and reason.

You also sense that its approach is completely intuitive.

And yet there is an order to his pictures.

It's a little like theater in fact.

Like any form of expression.

It is instantaneous, instinctive and constructive.

All the same time.

I think he's also telling us about himself when he tells us about the world.

Easter bonnet.

I've lived in Harlem for a long time.

When hardly any whites were living there.

Shot from the window of the car.

My friend said "Hey, let's get out of here before they beat you up!"

Was really dangerous in Mississippi.

I never talked to him about that, but I suppose he had the feeling...

...that this place had the potential for both tremendous good and tremendous problems, evil.

And he was looking at it.

God! What picture he has.

America is a place of great extremes.

And if you choose to look at the extremes, it can be very tragic.

God bless America.

My passion has never been for photography in itself, but for the possibility, by forgetting yourself, -and this is important- of capturing in a fraction of a second the emotion of the subject, and the beauty of the form.

There's a natural geometry in what we see.

I don't have a message. I'm not trying to prove anything.

You see, you feel, and the surprise eye responds.

To me, taking pictures means discovering rhythms, lines and gradations in reality.

The eye does the framing and the camera does the work.

It registers the decision the eye makes.

You see a photograph all at once, like a painting.

If the hatches were closed, she had a client.

Calle Cuauhtemoctzin in Mexico City.

The chineses took that bird to the cafe with them and an ultramarine cover protected them from the lights.

The last eunuch. Just before the communists came.

The most beautiful gift Matísse could make.

The first time I saw "Images à la Sauvette" was at Leonardo Sciascia house.

He had the book. And then I did something terrible.

Since I didn't have a copy of my own.

I photographed every single page.

I assimilated the photographs through the lens of the camera.

So, sometimes when I was working I couldn't remember if I shot the picture myself.

Or whether was one of the pictures from the Cartier-Bresson's Books.

It was almost as if I had digested them, consumed them, rather than seeing.

She doesn't need a passport. You can tell she is british.

A ball.

The movement.

All together.

Do you see the pigs? They're interested in everything.

That was the mouth of the Rhine.

He shows what amuses him too.

He was everywhere, incredible.

Fishermen near Suzdal in Russia.

He always said "Eye, mind and heart have to be aligned.".

I still use that criterion to judge photographs, my own and those of my colleges.

Sometimes in his pictures, formal elements dominate.

The eye, a conceptual approach.

Other times is the emotion, the heart.

Pictures of that kind are more ideological, propagandistic, narrative.

When he concentrate on aesthetics and form, the result is what Henri calls patterns.

So his dictum is a excellent critical tool, to determine whether he achieved what easier said than done.

The balance between eye, mind and heart.

But what counts is geometry and structure. Everything where it should be.

To me geometry is the foundation. Everybody has feelings.

They know how to act.

They're professionals.

The eye encounters reality at the decisive moment.

It's not just movement.

The moment is decisive because it shows that the photographer also recognises the formal aspect of things.

Whether it's a landscape or just a fleeting expression.

When you hit the target, there is no need to crop the picture.

To question by looking and the sense of form.

People think, think, think.

In all directions, but they think.

A questioning engaged is rare.

Alberto Giacometti and E. Teriade

And there is a beautiful picture of Marilyn here.

In "The Misfits".

I remember that one.

There it is.

Yeah, she was beautiful.

It was the first day of shooting. First day.

She is thinking about something.

She is not simple posing for a picture.

She is preoccupied with something.

I don't know what it was, but was something.

Also, she is very alive in the picture.

It's her basic intelligence in that picture.

It's a very introspective picture, I think.

It's her, it is the way she was.

He is about to take off.

Is he heading for us? His head lowered.

Beat the time. But which tempo?

In any case he is putting up a good fight.

So many memories on this pieces of paper. An accumulation of things.

Alexander Shneider


When I was a little boy I annoyed my grandfather by playing Stravinsky's rite of spring on the gramophone.

I liked him a lot, Calder.

You couldn't understand a word he was saying.

I like doing portraits.

Saul Steinberg

Basically, you just have to make people forget the camera.

It's no different for you.

It was early morning, no not that early.

He sat opposite me.

We were talking. Until he pick up his camera.

He shot some pictures, just a few. And showed to me.

One picture stood out. When he sat across from me, I had the feeling that he saw something in me which I wasn't aware.

Something I would not discover.

Probably, I know myself pretty well. And what I look like in pictures.

I've been photographed so much.

But something completely unexpected happened with him.

It was a moment of truth.

Of course, because for Bonnard, it's not only the eye, everything counts.

All wrapped up.

He said "Why did you just pressed the release?"

I answered "Why did you painted the yellow patch there?"

He laughed.

Portraits are the most difficult. Everything is so fleeting.

You can't say "Give me that smile again".

It's madame Chanel.

A split second later her smile has vanished.

And her face was hard as nail.

I made the mistake of mention a old lady. A friend of mine, Mary Louise.

They couldn't stand each other.

I don't mind making a gaffe, but that...

Her face was distorted like this.

My God, how I miss Mexico.

The intensity and passion.

There were whores at night, making love on the street.

And by day, the sound of a hammer.

The carpenter making coffins.

"Calle de Ecuador"

When I left Czechoslovakia, you said something that was very important to me.

You said "take care of your eye".

You always said that after a while many photographers no longer have a good eye.

If I've had succeed in preserving my eye, then it's really thanks to you.

I came here, in Czechoslovakia there was no agency like Magnum and no photojournalism.

I joined Magnum and I sensed that you liked my photographs.

You liked my work and I sensed you liked me too.

How lucky I am to have met both of you.

I want to thank you.

To friendship and love and both together.

That is Truman Capote. I had no idea he once looked like that.

Like an angel. Such a long time ago.

He doesn't take pictures of silence.

It is the time after the last word has been spoken.

He listens to the silence that follows speech.

That's different.

And maybe that's exactly what he captures in his pictures.

The moment that comes out of movement.

His picture is never ever static.

What treasure!

See, you can't pose things like that. It's not possible.

The best way to take portrait is to spend a little time with people and just sit with them.

Then see what happens.

From most refined to most mundane.

His eye makes no distinction, you can see their best on the portraits.

He chooses celebrities and farmers, and workers on the street.

And he treats them all with the same compassion.

It reminds me of stand out, get close enough to feel something.

Yet remain detached enough not to get too involved.

Under the doorbell "Enter without knocking." I did and that's what I saw.

I took the shot before I said "hello". I said "hello" afterwards.

But when I saw that, I couldn't resist.

You can't force things, if you do you're lost.

He's right and actually the same thing applies to what I do.

Things happen quickly or not at all, easily and effortlessly, you can't will it, it just happens.

It's the same in photography either something happens or doesn't.

The best thing is to shoot a few pictures, to breach the silence.

It puts citizens at ease, if they're having a hard time.

Ok, that's it. And then.

There is no law - no rule.

I have one basic principle: don't repeat yourself.

And when I find that something works, it means that I have to change directions.

I have to destroy the rule and start from scratch again.

Sometimes I think that's why Henri, even if there is other reasons, started drawing again.

That's for tomorrow.

And that was yesterday. Does it work?

Just sketches.



André de Mandiargues

A childhood friend.

A good drawing.

Collage pasted with gum of a rubber tree 1931, Ivory Coast on the Cavalier river

For love and against industrial labour.

Africa made a deep impression on me.

And against colonialism, it's outrageous.

Mélanie - our daughter.

To keep myself calm, a watercolor I painted in Lyon, while waiting for my contact to bring my false papers.

And I got them.

My first wife sent me this copy in 1942, and I had it with me when I escaped 1943.

That book always kept me company on the prison camp.

They wrapped this paper around the bars.

I used it to make a cover to my poems.

I worked in 30 different commands, always trying to find a way to escape.

My citizenship is still a little like escaped prisoner, cannot be rehabilitated.

I don't take pictures anymore, at least not on the street.

I don't care about much anymore, I rather draw, there is more envolved.

The light is too harsh now.

Till next time.

The liberation of Paris.

A girl who was working for the GESTAPO.

It was awful.

She was screaming "Don't kill me, I tell you everything".

The separation between East and West in Dessau.

In a camp the two have been separated.

The Berlin Wall, very important.

They're waiting to see a curtain at the window.

Relatives giving a signal.

The Berlin Wall, it's incredible.

Till there, children playing, life goes on.

Innocent because they're children, innocent to violence.

But there is despair as well and a kind of helplessness.

A decency of human too.

There is something whimsical, ironical about the three man on the pedestal.

All of his photographs are like that.

Borobudur Temple


And this one.

They're moving.

They're getting rid of the portraits of Dutch governors - Independence.

The end of colonialism.

There is not a single moment in Cartier-Bresson work, that makes you want to say "he shouldn't had done that".

He somehow has an innate feeling for politics.

He didn't just happen to be in China when the Kuomintang collapse and the communist marched in.

And he wouldn't be in India, precisely when Gandhi died without has an incredible nose for international political events.

Gandhi on his deathbed. Here as well.

I showed Gandhi a book of photographs, because I was to portray him the following day.

So I wanted him to see how I work.

He looked one picture for a long time.

Then he asked me, "What does this picture mean?".

I said "That's Claudel".

And briefly explained what Claudel meant to me, and I taking the picture in Brangues.

And Gandhi said "Death, death, death". And that's all.

I said goodbye. Our conversation had last a quarter of an hour.

A few minutes later, he left, he went outside and he was killed.

I had to get out of there fast, my foot was close to the funeral pyre.

The fire was already burning.

Nehru announcing the Gandhi's death.

He sensed death, but it isn't sad.

It has a finality, doesn't it?

I always had a passion for painting.

When I was a child I painted Thursdays and Saturdays.

The rest of time I claimed about it.

The quality of that red.

A photo is like the stab of a knife, painting is meditation.

When I was a child I used to come here to draw that.

Copying Rubens is good practice.

Teriade's finger, a vessel by Picasso and Matisse.

The secret is there.

I love Matisse with a pigeon, and not just because it's a picture of Matisse.

I like a lot of thing about the picture, the tragedy of an old man, animals.

There are so much in it. Everybody can see something else in it.

I especially like this one.

......... statue.[corrigir]

An italian countess, I forgot her name.

I like this alot.

Matisse with Teriade and Elytis. A greek poet.

And madame Lydia.

There was plenty of glitz in America in the 60s and 70s, yes and in the 40s, the era of these pictures.

But clearly Cartier-Bresson was trying to get behind it to the substance of American society.

And since his is fundamentally a tragic vision, he reacted most feelingly to what in America he saw as related to its decay, its pain.

The very horizon is often oppressive, jagged with junked cars, the detritus of consumer culture, which after all is a culture of planned waste, engineered obsolescence.

Whatever lasts is boring, what demands its ownreplacement energizes our imaginations.

These are painful ironic pictures of the United States before Reagan’s ‘Morning in America’ made it difficult, if not impermissible, to take a straight look at real life on this continent.

Since the Seventies the United States has become a different culture.

The urgency behind these pictures now seems archaic.

We are tired of so much knowing, we want diversion.

These images ask the inevitable question... what is our next chapter?

Where do we go from here?

And can the new impulse, whatever it's mode, come forth with such rooted beauty?

It was the 4th of July.

The woman said "That's day you put the flag on your heart".

I was in trouble.

The USSR army.

Terrible trouble. I didn't realize.

I took this picture because the subject interested me.

I didn't know that something secret was going on over there.

Then my interpret told me it would be better to vanish because of what was happening in the woods.

You never know what you're getting into.

I was at a reception yesterday, I looked at the people's legs, especially the women's they reminded me of this.

The impact of the horizontal lances - incredible.

It has to do with mathematics.

What science!

What can you do after this?

Get good and drunk.

And Piero della Francesca as well.

Paolo Uccello and Piero are the highlights for me.

The most difficult thing in photography, and probably in other fields as well.

Is to look what you've done with complete detachment.

To see as a piece of paper.

Forget the music and how difficult it was.

Just look at it. Nothing is more difficult.

That's why people who have a good eye, also important, they can evaluate what someone else has done.

That's why Delpire was so important to Henri and also to me.

These two photographs are typical. This one is pure form.

And when you turn the page. You see women praying in Kashmir.

And you note two things.

The regular form and the desire to grasp the meaning of the situation.

Taking pictures means holding your breath.

With all your faculties focused on capturing fleeting reality.

It is then that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.

Carson McCullers

It's hard to choose any of them.

A good photo tells lots of stories.

And different people tell different stories.

A single picture, lots of stories.

To me, that makes a good photograph.

Henri's best pictures are exactly like that.

It is not important if these women are prostitute or lesbian, that's unimportant.

Even if knowing affects the way you look the picture.

A good photo is a good photo.

I'm looking for a picture. I don't know where it is anymore.

It's one I really like, because it so accurately expresses the time he spent with surrealists and his interest in them.

Aesthetically the picture is so surrealist, and yet the expression is still typical of Cartier-Bresson.

Amazing this one, no title, no body, no title.

After your feelings were liberated from all influences.

This picture taken in Livorno, it always makes me feel uneasy.

It's easy to talk about "objective chance" and all that.

But it takes so much to see everything at once.

With all the balance, the relationships.

All the narrative contains the ambiguity and obscurity, even though it's so obvious.

The young black child running, how often have I tried to take that picture again.

I love this picture.

In Bangalore I've met the greatest mathematicians.

And at the same time, a boy came by in a bicycle.

The Bhagwan is dead. I get on my bike right to the Ashram.

At 30 minutes to nine, the Bhagwan's fan has stopped.

I live from day to day.

The past is a tabula rasa.

But usually comes back like a burp.

Memory is so strange.

Proust had a lot to say about that.

You can't never find a picture when you are looking for.

It's the same as taking pictures, you can't find when you are looking for them.

And they come and bite you.

That is so long ago. And still so immediate.

That's why there is no such thing as death.

Everything lives on.

Suddenly scenes come back to the mind’s eye.

Either you get it or you don't.

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