Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2003/06/23

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Subject: Re: [Leica] HCB Did It All First
From: Peter Klein <>
Date: Mon, 23 Jun 2003 18:24:47 -0700

At 02:35 PM 6/23/03 -0700, Seth Rosner wrote:
>It seems to me that there are essentially two kinds of photography. One I
>may call contemplative. This is large and medium format and, to some extent,
>SLR photography (don't jump on this, Doug; I recognize that wildlife and
>sports photography is long lens SLR work). The second I may call action. The
>35mm RF is the paradigm tool for this work. Of course many if not most of us
>do both.
>This is perhaps a long-winded way of describing the decisive moment. HCB's
>work exhibits an extraordinary eye for the image as it is creating itself
>(i.e. the action creating the image-opportunity) and extraordinary eye-hand
>coordination in capturing that action with his right index finger.

Well put, Seth.  And I might add that some of our LUG disagreements are the 
result of judging contemplative photographs by decisive moment standards, 
or more likely vice versa.

I admire HCB immensely.  Viewing his work and Eisie's is what got me 
interested in black and white photography in the first place.  So when 
Slobodan made his remarks, my first reaction was:  How can he possibly 
think that way?

But Slobodan knows his stuff. So unless he was just pulling our collective 
chain on a dull afternoon, he must have his reasons.  And I've heard this 
reaction to HCB a few times before.

Here's what I think.  HCB's way of looking at the world is very 
French.  It's also very much an early 20th-Century anti-Romantic point of 
view.  He photographed people the way others might photograph carefully 
composed landscapes, except he did it with, as Seth might put it, a very 
quick trigger finger.  As B.D. mentioned, HCB himself said that it was all 
about composition.  You often don't really know how he feels about his 
subjects or the situations they are in.

What I'm getting at is that HCB is not like the mythic "concerned 
photographer" we all supposedly admire, who uses his Leica to capture the 
pathos and inhumanity of existence.  He photographs something that Salgado 
might photograph, but the picture we get it isn't some statement of grand 
Wagnerian angst.  Instead, it's a keyboard miniature, deceptively simple, 
exquisitely arranged, every note "tres juste."

The human statement is bound up in the artifice.  It's there, but you have 
to look for it. You are freer to react than you are with Nachtway or 
Salgado or Gene Smith.  HCB doesn't say, "Isn't this wonderful?" or "Isn't 
this horrible?"  He says, "Isn't this fascinating, and see how I caught it 
when everything was arranged just-so?"

I don't mean to imply that I know how HCB thought or felt about his 
subjects.  I'm saying that this is what comes through to me.  Those who 
like their human interest photos served with more raw emotion will be left 
cold.  Those who like to criticize fast-paced photos taken with old lenses 
and slower films will have ample to carp about.  Chacun a son gout.

Thanks to Slobodan for starting this, and to the rest of you for making 
some very interesting reading.  It motiviated me to go to my local Barnes 
and Noble and buy the HCB retrospective book.  I'm glad I did!

- --Peter Klein
Seattle, WA

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