Reflections on ‘L’amour de court’

Henri Cartier-Bresson: the name is synonymous with the idea of the ‘decisive moment’ in photography. The point at which all of the elements are perfectly aligned with one another (O’Hagan. 2014). HCB’s 1932 photograph ‘Place de l’Europe. Gare Saint-Lazare’ has long since been emblematic of that idea. In ‘L’amour de court’ (2001), a documentary by Raphaël O’Byrne, HCB talks about how his view of the world underpins his photography, whilst O’Byrne seeks to draw parallels between HCB’s creative processes, and those in other fields of creativity.

Place de l'Europe. Gare Saint Lazare. Henri Cartier-Bresson [1932]

Place de l’Europe. Gare Saint-Lazare. Henri Cartier-Bresson [1932]

The cornerstone of HCB’s process is the importance of looking, allied to an emphasis on form and geometry (the golden section), and an element of chance. He seems to revel in describing the element of luck involved in taking the above photograph (@ 17m 06s). The implication being that this alone is what counts. ‘When you want it, you won’t get it. Wanting won’t work’ (@ 17m 28s). Perhaps this is humility, perhaps this is disingenuous, or maybe its the sense of humour of a man playing to the camera, but I can’t help but think that it is possible on occasion for the two to operate in tandem, providing that you are willing to wait and be disappointed.

Maybe it is indicative of HCB’s desire to impugn teaching, and to learn by doing, rather than intellectualising the process. Towards the end of the documentary (@ 58m 08s), there is a moment of reflection about the images taken whilst HCB was travelling, which perhaps hints at what he was driving at. “True travelling is not about seeing new things-it is about seeing oneself as temporary against a permanent background, which leads to a deeper vision than leafing through the pages of an art book”. Or as HCB said…“I just lived”. As good a maxim for taking photographs as any… and one that I’ll return to when I’m struggling for inspiration.

Rickshaw, Kathmandu. John Callaway [2011]

Durbar Square, Kathmandu. John Callaway [2011]


Magnum photos photographer portfolio (2014) Available at: (Accessed: 28 December 2016).

O’Byrne, R. (2016) H. Cartier-Bresson: L’amour tout court. Available at: (Accessed: 28 December 2016).

O’Hagan, S. (2014) Cartier-Bresson’s classic is back – but his Decisive Moment has passed | Art and design | The Guardian. Available at: (Accessed: 27 December 2016).

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