Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1999/01/13

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Subject: Re: [Leica] Totally false?? HCB and l'instant décisif
From: Alan Ball <>
Date: Wed, 13 Jan 1999 12:44:02 +0100

Dominique PELLISSIER wrote:
> That story is for me significant because it leads me to a reappraisal of HCB's and Doisneau's > work.
> They are both of the same generation (born respectively in 1908 and 1913). But the social environment is quite different : high society for HCB and popular world for D.
> Geometric inspiration for HCB ; humanitarian inspiration for D.
> When I see the HCB's picture entitled la Seine (Cahiers de la photographie, n° 18, p.138), I > understand why people (a family of blue collars )don't look at the camera. 
> HCB is not interested by people, but by a geometric picture in which there are people.
> Doisneau, in the same situation would made a pix with people playing a comedy in front of the > camera : we are in 1938, at the end of the front populaire (Left government). Blue collars, for > the first time, can take 15 days off.
> For the french high society, it's an horror : blue collars can go outside the suburbs. HCB > documents this instant décisif. But it's a Right vision.


This is a debatable statement. I am looking right now at HCB images
where the subjects visibly interact with the photographer and where the
images visibly convey a humanist point of view: "Grenade" of 1932 (the
women brooming each other's hair), "Séville" of 1932 with kids in front
and behind a crumbled (bombshelled ?) wall, "Fête du printemps à Holeni"
of 1975 with the Rumanian couple in traditional outfit. Those images are
not "right" or "left". They are depicting human beings of the working
class and peasants, in a very human way. On top of offering unbelievably
rich composition and fantastic room for interpretation by the viewer. 

There are of course quite a few HCB images solely focussed on patterns,
but these patterns are usually made of people interacting with each
other or leading their social lives (like the unbelievably great "Foire
aux Bestiaux" in Pampelune, 1952 or the kids of Simiane-la-Rotonde in

I do not really want to know what HCB himself thinks or thought
politically. His images generally convey a social vision that is not the
one you project onto him.