Exercise 5.3: Looking at photography


For this exercise we are asked to revisit the photograph ‘Behind the Gare St. Lazare’ by Henri Cartier Bresson and answer the questions,

Is there a single element in the image that you could say is the pivotal ‘point’ to which the eye returns again and again? What information does this ‘point’ contain?

OCA, EYV (2014:109)

The first question I find quite interesting. My eye always returns to the gentleman in the top centre position of the composition, he is also the first point that my eyes fall on when they look at the image. I believe this is due to the fact that, for me, the gentleman is at eye level.

If we look at the diagram on the right, I have ringed each element that I feel is an important point in its own right. The criteria for these sets are individual elements which together build the information within the composition.

Once my eye has been drawn into the composition by the gentleman, the heavy silhouette of the leaping man is noticed next. Firstly because of his dominance which my eyes capture automatically and second because the central gentleman is looking towards him, so my eyes follow his gaze.

The route my eyes travel around the composition can be seen below. Interestingly enough, everyone that I asked where do their eyes begin their travel through the image have chosen the leaping man.

Fig. 3 The route my eyes travel around the composition

However, the important aspect of what we have to look and think about is the ‘pivotal’ point of the image. For me it is the feet of the leaping man, and the space between. My eyes do not rest once they get to this point in their journey but dart back and forth between the feet due to their relationship within the jumping action and the space that links them between.

The cover photo of Rinko Kawauchi’s book ‘Illuminance’ shows a still life of a purposely over exposed flower. The image is very similar to a cyanotype photogram where the form of the flower is left as a solid colour, in this instance white, and is surrounded by an abstract background of colours.

Fig. 4 Kawauchi, R. Untitled from Illuminance

Unlike ‘Behind the Gare St. Lazare’, Kawauchi’s image does not have a narrative running through it, the information the viewer gains from looking at the image is limited because they are responding to abstracted colour forms.

There are similarities within the two photographs. Both of the images present their main subject in silhouette form, Bresson’s gentleman is black, while in contrast, Kawauchi’s flower is white. The second similarity and one that is not as obvious as the silhouettes is that both have captured a single moment in time. Bresson captures the leaping man as he leaps from the ladder as his single moment in time, while Kawauchi’s moment is technical. His single moment is the capturing of the light from a flash on the flower which causes the over exposure.

By reviewing the two different images and looking for the pivotal point to which the viewer’s eyes will return to, we can see that the ‘point’ can be informative and part of a narrative within an image such as the gentleman’s feet and their relationship to space as seen in Cartier-Bresson’s image or it can be a form that takes up a specific space within an image which our eyes are drawn to due to how the camera has caught and presented the subject, as in Kawauchi’s Illumination where a familiar form (a flower) has it’s relationship with light.


Fig. 1 Cartier-Bresson, H. (1932) Behind the Gare St. Lazare. At: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/98333 (Accessed 01.10.21)

Fig. 2 Tomlin, D. (2021) Cartier-Bresson, H. (1932) Annotated Behind the Gare St. Lazare

Fig. 3 Tomlin, D. (2021) Cartier-Bresson, H. (1932) Annotated Behind the Gare St. Lazare

Fig. 4 Fig. 4 Kawauchi, R. (2009) Untitled from Illuminance. At: http://rinkokawauchi.com/en/works/194/ (Accessed 01.10.21)

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