Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

Henri Cartier-Bresson: ‘There Are No Maybes’

In 1971, Sheila Turner-Seed interviewed Henri Cartier-Bresson in his Paris studio for a film-strip series on photographers that she produced, with Cornell Capa

Q. Have you ever really been able to define for yourself when it is that you press the shutter?

A. It’s a question of concentration. Concentrate, think, watch, look and, ah, like this, you are ready. But you never know the culminative point of something. So you’re shooting. You say, “Yes. Yes. Maybe. Yes.” But you shouldn’t overshoot. It’s like overeating, overdrinking. You have to eat, you have to drink. But over is too much. Because by the time you press, you arm the shutter once more, and maybe the picture was in between.

Very often, you don’t have to see a photographer’s work. Just by watching him in the street, you can see what kind of photographer he is. Discreet, tiptoes, fast or machine gun. Well, you don’t shoot partridges with a machine gun. You choose one partridge, then the other partridge. Maybe the others are gone by then. But I see people wrrrr, like this with a motor. It’s incredible, because they always shoot in the wrong moment.

Q. Can you bear to talk a bit about your equipment?
A. I am completely and have always been uninterested in the photographic process. I like the smallest camera possible, not those huge reflex cameras with all sorts of gadgets. When I am working, I have an M3 because it’s quicker when I’m concentrating.
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