Exercise 5.3 Behind the gare Saint-Lazare

The iconic image ‘Derriere la gare Saint-Lazare’ (Paris, 1932) is the photograph that helped coin the term ‘The Decisive Moment’.

In 1932, Cartier-Bresson began using a small, hand held Leica camera with rolls of film he could carry in his pocket. This liberation enabled Cartier-Bresson to capture images that could not have before been created with cumbersome large and medium format equipment.

The image was captured by pressing the camera between slats in the fence, Cartier-Bresson says he couldn’t even see the picture at the time he pressed the shutter. Did he then, see the figure and ‘anticipate’ that the person would jump into the flood water. Was there another piece of debris not shown that the jumper could have been aiming for to save himself from getting wet?

Cartier-Bresson always chose “form over light L’amour Tout Court (2001) and spoke of pictures needing a strong sense of geometry.

In ‘Derriere la gare Saint-Lazare’ My eyes come back to the point of the symmetry where the heel of the figure is off the ground and is a fraction away from touching the reflection. This is the point of  ‘movement’ in the image making it interesting but also the point of the highest contrast. I also find the reflection of the static figure in the background stands out, again for the contrast but also because we recognise the shape as human and while the railings and geometry of the lines give structure to the photograph, we are probably more curious about a human figure. We know what the railings and buildings are doing, their story or form won’t change but we are naturally drawn to part of the image that might move or allow us more information to the story.

This particular picture is also interesting from upside down. The ‘jumper’ looks like he is putting more speed into the motion. We can also see his hands and his back leg is almost ‘springing’ from the board.

Another picture by Bresson titled ‘Hyeres, France’ was also taken in 1932. There are many similarities to the two images. It is difficult to know which was taken first but, the form of the cyclist in the space past the railings could of helped Bresson anticipate ‘The Decisive Moment’ in ‘Derriere la gare Saint-Lazare’


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