16 Henri Cartier-Bresson Quotes On Street Photography

Last week, I found the 1973 Henri Cartier-Bresson documentary, “The Decisive Moment.” It features not only many of his most famous photos, but also his commentary as voice over. As a canonized Master of street photography and co-founder of Magnum, of course he could shoot. But, wow, can he talk a good game too! Upon watching the film on YouTube, I couldn’t help but pause to type out some of his impassioned viewpoints.

Below, in chronological order, I’ve listed sixteen of his quotes that stood out. Especially in an Internet and Instagram-fueled age of an ever-increasing deluge of street images, the “two minute test” is poignantly apropos. And for anyone thinking street photography requires special gear … think again. “It takes sensitivity, a finger and two legs.” Nothing more, not even brains!

(Note: read the transcripts of the recorded interview which provided HCB’s audio for the film via the The New York Times “Lens” blog here and here.)

Henri Cartier-Bresson Quotes On Street Photography

1. The greatest joy for me is geometry.

2. Facts are not interesting. It’s the point of view on facts which is important.

3. A photograph I care for is one I can look at for more than two minutes.

4. In photography, you’ve got to be quick, quick, quick. Like an animal and its prey; you grasp it.

5. For me it’s a physical pleasure, photography. It doesn’t take any brains! It takes sensitivity, a finger and two legs.

6. I never think. I act, quick.

I never think. I act, quick.Henri Cartier-Bresson

7. You have to forget yourself. You have to be yourself and forget yourself, so that the image comes much stronger.

8. Ideas are very dangerous. You must think all the time, but when you are photographing, you’re not trying to push a point, explain something or prove something. You don’t prove anything; it comes by itself.

9. It’s seldom you make a great picture: you have to milk the cow quite a lot and get plenty of milk to make a little bit of cheese.

10. There’s no new ideas in the world! There’s only new arrangements of things.

11. I think everything is interesting. But at the same time, you just can’t photograph everything you see. There are some places where the pulse beats more.

12. Places where I’m all the time, I know too much and not enough. To be lucid about it is difficult.

13. Anybody can take one good photograph in his life. What is interesting is consistency. To keep on, on, on.

14. It’s a way of shouting how you feel.

15. You see the camera can be a machine gun. It can be a psycho-analytical couch. It can be a warm kiss. It can be a sketchbook.

16. Photography is like that: “yes, yes, yes!” And there’s no maybe. All the maybe’s should go to the trash.

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