Category Archives: Ex 5.3

Ex 5.3 Cartier-Bresson’s ‘Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare’ and the Pivotal Point

Look again at Henri  photograph in Part Three. (If you can get to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London you can see an original print on permanent display in the Photography Gallery.) Is there a single element in the image that you could say is the pivotal ‘point’ to which the eye returns again and again? What information does this ‘point’ contain?   Include a short response to Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare in your learning log. You can be as imaginative as you like. In order to contextualise your discussion you might want to include one or two of your own shots, and you may wish to refer to Rinko Kawauchi’s photograph mentioned above or the Theatres series by Hiroshi Sugimoto discussed in Part Three. Write about 150–300 words.

I had the opportunity to see an original print of this photograph at the HCB Foundation in Paris earlier in the year.  My impression of the print was that it’s small and quite high contrast.  Somehow I was expecting something rather bigger and more dramatic, but the size of the thing does invite close inspection thereby establishing a certain intimacy between the viewer and the image.  So here is the photograph in question:


The print proportions (3:2) suggest that this is an uncropped image from a 35mm negative although I haven’t seen the contact sheet. The predominant pivotal point is the space between the man’s foot and its reflection – the tiniest space remains at the split second immediately before the foot hits the water and disrupts the mirror-like reflections.  The information here is primarily the unavoidable fact of a wet shoe.  . This is a much-studied photograph and other resonant points have been isolated; the reflection of his other foot just touching the ripples produced by his spring from the ladder being just one, the echo of the dancing figure on the poster another. Additional information can be easily extrapolated, limited only by the bounds of imagination but for me the content of the frame is sufficient.  It simply doesn’t need further dismantling or analysis because this would interfere with the honesty and simplicity of the photograph  HCB took this without looking through the viewfinder (he poked the camera through a fence) and when speaking of it was at pains to emphasise the importance of serendipity in photography rather than taking credit for impeccable timing and composition.

From my archive:

DSCF6208 The dog poked his head out for just a brief moment and I was almost quick enough to get a sharp shot – but not quite.

 DSCF6695This couple appeared to by studying carving but it seems that their sightlines have diverged somewhat.

Both the above images are happenstance shots whose value rests in oddity and humour. Each has a pivotal point (no pun intended) to which the eye returns repeatedly.  Neither of them are likely to grace the walls of the V&A, however,  because they have no satisfying  internal geometry or enduring compositional value.  But I won’t let that put me off.