Tag Archives: Henri Cartier-Bresson

How do I read?

one of my notebooks

one of my notebooks

I jotted this question in my notebook a while ago. How do I read, in the widest sense? There is plenty of observation and advice on the art of writing, composing music, painting, photography, film. Less is said about on the art of reading, perceiving, interpreting, or how we reject or embrace what is expressed by others, and ourselves, even how we read our dreams.

I conclude there’s no difference between, let’s say writing, and reading, other than visibility, since any creative composition derives from an inner process of reading, the picking and shuffling of impressions into our frame of reference in relation to the larger myth of reality.

One could say the secret of being read lies in one’s talent and ability to read one’s inner psychic world, even when filtered through one’s most personal and eccentric imagination.

Long before communication was easily reproducible and reached greater audiences, people were reading the world, though only a tiny fraction of inspirations and inventions was circulated. Today’s media channels swamp us with communications. It’s confusing. We must choose.

In reading novels, I follow my intuition. The gimmick of an instant attention grabbing action scene puts me off. A proposal may be impossibly fantastic, but if I detect an authentic voice, rhythm and movement, I travel along. Invited into a mind, an atmosphere, a time, a place, I want to be absorbed in this other world and experience myself anew in a conflict between light and shadow from within the heart of another consciousness.

Whether meaning is intended or not, I read my own meaning into what has been imagined by another mind. An insight, a memory may surprise. Some books I treasure for one or two illuminating sentences, so I guess reading for me is a bit of a treasure hunt, which begs a question. What am I hunting for?

world objects for sandtray work

world objects for sandtray work

My interest is fleeting when events are contrived, plucked from the air. Characters convince me when they are embodied and grow around obstacles, reaching towards the light, while spreading roots and producing seeds (new thoughts,) even when they come from mythical creatures, kings and slaves of the past, or explorers of distant futures. As long as events happen in a believable psychological setting, I engage.

Then again, I’ve been convinced by writing that made no sense at all, until, with a little patience, I discovered a new comprehension shining through an abstract form. It’s a wonderful feeling, and important feedback for writers, who may be surprised by what is evoked in readers. Once I finished my present project, I intent to spend more time on reviewing – a most giving art of reading.

Stories for stories sake can be dull, while stories in which nothing much happens outwardly can be riveting when they resonate with the human condition, where, quite often, what seems true becomes false, and what seems false becomes true.

It is said we write the books we want to read. When writing, I search to combine words that convince intellectually and emotionally, until something true is mirrored back. Maybe what I’m hunting for in my reading and writing are fitting metaphors for the miracle of existence.

I always delight in discovering neglected writers, like Marlene Haushofer,  or the poet W S Graham, whom I wrote about here as part of a post in Sept 2013.  And beyond new works, there are innumerable old favourites, including H G Wells. The link connects to a post I did about one of his lesser known stories.

Thinking about photography, my other passionate reading, I was inspired by Henri Cartier Bresson – the link leads to my post about him.  And here the archive of the street photography of Andre Kertesz – enjoy.  I’ll leave film alone, that’s a whole other story.

What are your reflections on reading?


Some related blogposts:

Storytelling and the primary world.

Mother-tongue and other tongue.

Memory and Place.



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… the inner silence of Henri Cartier-Bresson …

The Mind’s Eye – writings on Photography and Photographers, by Henri Cartier-Bresson, is a lovely book I received for Christmas from a dear friend. I was reminded how H C B inspired my photographic work with its poetry and Golden Mean, and still inspires other creative areas, including my writing.

Henri Cartier-Bresson - 1972 photo of a Georgian familyFor H C B photography led on to include painting & drawing. For me photography led on to include writing, in the way H C B said: ‘The writer has time to reflect. He can accept and reject, accept again; and before committing his thoughts to paper he is able to tie the several relevant elements together. There is also a period when his brain ‘forgets,’ and his subconscious works on classifying his thoughts. But for the photographer, what has gone is gone forever.’

The impact of H C B’s images is hard to define. They exemplify what many photographers aspire to but can’t name. Not only do most of his shots surprise by capturing the essence of a fugitive moment, a magical decisive one, they are framed in a way that touches all the elements of motion in a dynamic balance.

H C B - rest‘My passion has never been for photography ‘in itself,’ but for the possibility – through forgetting yourself – of recording in a fraction of a second the emotion of the subject, and the beauty of the form; that is, a geometry awakened by what’s offered.’

‘I hope I’ll never see the day when photo shops sell little schema grills to clamp onto our viewfinder; the Golden Rule will never be found etched on our ground glass.’

Henri Cartier-Bresson, girl running







I let Henry Cartier-Bresson talk for himself:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MW7I3GBdsBw

Henri Cartier-Bresson, the wallInner Silence

H C B speaks in relation to portrait-photography of looking for the silence in the person. I guess he was looking for the silence behind everything. This silence was most likely what he was attentive to. I conjure that this silence lies between each breath, from which all phenomena emerge from second to second – from that timeless soul-garden within us – which we can tune into.


What I am saying is – H C B could not have captured these decisive moments without having experienced the silence within him. From this timeless state we glimpse the joie de vivre with its awesome sense of wonder generated and re-generated from eternity that makes life worthwhile and meaningful. It’s probably this glimpse, the ethic of this silent sphere that drives all anarchist artists.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Sur les bords de la Marne 1938Why Black and White and not Colour?

In 1952 colour film emulsion was not well developed. H C B said then: ‘I am half afraid that this complex new element may tend to prejudice the achievement of the life and movement which is often caught by black and white.’

He was concerned that  composition would suffer and be overpowered by colour. I remember when colour TV was first introduced, I intensely disliked the busy business cramped into a small frame. Colour can however be used as a language, and I am certain H C B would have cottoned on to this had he lived on.

Here a sample of my own to illustrate colour’s use.  http://500px.com/photo/6913693?from=set/266780

In 1974, together with other freelance photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson founded Magnum Photos. See also: http://www.henricartierbresson.org/pres/home_en.htm

H C B’s second wife, the Belgian-born Martine Franck, was an inspired photographer in her own right: http://www.theworld.org/2012/08/remembering-celebrated-photographer-martine-franck/

I am wishing all my readers and visitors a wonderful creative New Year …. 


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