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The Mind's Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers

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Henri Cartier-Bresson's writings on photography and photographers have been published sporadically over the past 45 years. His essays—several of which have never before been translated into English—are collected here for the first time. The Mind's Eye features Cartier-Bresson's famous text on "the decisive moment" as well as his observations on Moscow, Cuba and China during turbulent times. These essays ring with the same immediacy and visual intensity that characterize his photography.

112 pages, Hardcover

First published January 20, 1997

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About the author

Henri Cartier-Bresson

158 books214 followers
Henri Cartier-Bresson was a French photographer considered to be the father of modern photojournalism, an early adopter of 35 mm format, and the master of candid photography. He helped develop the "street photography" or "real life reportage" style that has influenced generations of photographers that followed.

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5 stars
1,118 (47%)
4 stars
719 (30%)
3 stars
383 (16%)
2 stars
111 (4%)
1 star
46 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 74 reviews
Profile Image for Paula  Abreu Silva.
272 reviews61 followers
October 29, 2022
"Minha paixão nunca foi pela fotografia «em si mesma», mas pela possibilidade, ao esquecer de si mesmo, de registrar numa fracção de segundo a emoção propiciada pelo tema e a beleza da forma, quer dizer, uma geometria despertada pelo que é oferecido.
O disparo fotográfico é um dos meus blocos de esboço."

Profile Image for Ernest Junius.
156 reviews22 followers
March 29, 2011
I started taking photography seriously about two years ago, when I first bought my Voigtlander's Bessa R2a camera in Singapore. Previously, I was happy being an ignorant amateur, armed with my lomo LC-A, taking pictures of friends and sceneries I liked. But gradually, I had become more and more sensitive towards the quality of the images I took. I started getting mad when the images didn't come out the way I wanted to be (or as I saw it). Then I started to research more about photography, and for the first time acquainted with the name Henri Cartier-Bresson who, in my opinion, one of the few that had lived his life as a photographer to the fullest extent (he lived to his 90s!), therefore logically, his wisdom about the subject is unparalleled. He had inspired me greatly ever since. My Leica says a lot about it.

The Mind's Eye, is a book that I have been wanting to read for long. Unfortunately it is such a rare title it wasn't available in most bookstores. Until recently I told myself, "it is now or never."

I bought the book via amazon and forked up a whole load of extra wads into it, plus 3 weeks of anxiety—for the delivery.

The book arrived just fine. It is nicely bound, in hardcover and seems like built to last. Also, it is so light (only over 100 pages) I did two rounds of reading today in the office.

However being short in words only makes it fare more in meaning and context. It is the kind of book that once you take out from your shelf, you will not likely to return it for a long time. It is the book that you would want to read again and again—either it is to understand it more, while away time, or just simply as a general reminder whenever you need it, therefore it would be nice to have it with you all the time—present and ever-ready on your desk.

I think HCB is a great teacher as he is a great photographer, but don't expect an instant revelation from his writing. He wrote as a photographer and that also demands an attentive photographer to understand what he talked about. It is philosophical and it ventures about photography in its very primal, basic comprehension more than in its technical qualities. It really helps me a lot for it teaches me exactly what I am lacking of as a dilettante.

As a sweet lagniappe, not only talking about photography, The Mind's Eye invites you to understand HCB's relationships with his close friends, such as Giacometti, Renoir and Breton—amusing tales that worth talking about over a hearty dinner with close friends.
Profile Image for Greg Goodale.
5 reviews1 follower
September 8, 2014
I wish I could add more, but the negative reviews have covered most of what there is to say.
HCB had an extraordinary journey through art and photography. He trained as a painter, became a surrealist photographer, a strict adherent of classical composition, founded a major photographic agency which he then left, then abandoned photography altogether.
This book gives virtually zero insight into this fascinating life.
But I see the shortfall of this book not as the absence of biographical detail, but a lack of much substance related to contemporary issues in photography or (this is a photographer still not convinced of the merits of colour photography, for instance) anything that sheds light on HCBs practice or photography in his era. In fact some of the material is so meagre that their posthumous collection into one volume appear to be a rather desperate attempt to cash in on an individual who simply didn't write very much.
For examples of the extent to which photographers can be informative and inspiring, read some of the interviews with 20th century photographers in Dialogue with Photography by Paul Hill (but not the HCB interview).
Profile Image for Chris.
95 reviews5 followers
July 5, 2016
Part one of the book offers the absolute minimal insight to his approach to photography (together with an awkward, out-of-place endorsement of Buddhism?!). It makes up for the only interesting material of the book.

The other parts are an unfortunate display of the artist's unbearable "bourgeois-ness" and historic unawareness (part 2), and random—and abysmally uninteresting—acknowledgements of his contemporary colleagues and friends (part 3)

Better stick to the man's photos.
Profile Image for Esra Bestel.
46 reviews8 followers
June 23, 2014

Great photographer and great writer...

"In a World that is buckling under the weight of profit-making, that is overrun by the destructive sirens of techno-science and the power-hunger of globalization - that new brand of slavery - beyond all that, friendship exists, love exists."

Bresson 1998
22 reviews2 followers
February 5, 2014
A reminder to pick your head up, stop checking your messages and observe the tiny, funny, everyday moments. A great annual read from an all-time favorite photographer.
Profile Image for Sarah.
12 reviews
July 30, 2008
As someone with an interest in photography this is a book that I come back to now and again. The essays are short and easy to pick up and read here and there. They contain pleanty of food for thought on observing the world through the camera lens. For example, the idea of the camera as Cartier-Bresson’s sketchbook is intriguing to me. While many artists use traditional sketchbooks which contain drawings, ideas, and experiments, Cartier-Bresson uses a camera to record images, compositions, and events. He tells us it is his diary.

I also appreciate the parallel he makes between photography and drawing. He says “photography is an immediate reaction, drawing a meditation“ (45). It’s necessary to recognize the contrast between the two. The ability to “meditate” on a subject through drawing and taking time to understand and see it, may build on one’s ability to capture the essence of that subject in a snapshot and vice versa.
Profile Image for Chris.
232 reviews19 followers
February 23, 2015

The Decisive Moment

Photography is, for me, a spontaneous impulse coming from an ever-attentive eye, which captures the moment and its eternity Henri Cartier Bresson

Henri Cartier Bresson is of course the great photographer of 'The Decisive Moment'. Only last year I met him in Tbilisi – Georgia. On the street corner he photographed some fifty years ago. The street corner still looked the same. A little less paint on the wood, a little less glass in the windows but not really changed.
I made a snapshot of it – see both photo's on google+ - https://plus.google.com/1107005028247...

What I did not remember is that the iron fence that was so irritating in my way while taking the snapshot, only just visible in the right corner. Played the lead on Cartier Bresson's photo. Complete with young boy performing a circus act there.
The small and the great photographer.

Profile Image for Jeanette.
8 reviews11 followers
May 9, 2007
Reading about HCB's experiences and philosophies from the man himself was, of course, interesting. As a small compilation of miscellaneous thoughts, it's a good read. But those who want to get a peek into his mind (no pun intended) I think will find it a bit too short.

I'm still on a lookout for the Decisive Moment, if anyone knows where I can find an english copy that won't cost me one million dollars.
Profile Image for Diogo.
35 reviews
February 12, 2011
This is a really small book, the important essay is The Mind's Eye, and that one is superb. Mostly everything else in this book is a little innocuous I think. I was disappointed with the lack of content. The photos were good, of course, but they are not enough to compensate a book supposedly of writings.
Profile Image for Ola.
130 reviews55 followers
August 4, 2012
Beautiful book full of texts filled with deep humanism, respect and understanding. Very calm one too. Also a crucial source for those interested in photography - it is the only available oeuvre in which an essay entitled "The Decisive Moment" can be found if you don't have the money to buy an original "Images à la sauvette" 1952 edition.
Profile Image for Jamie.
311 reviews10 followers
February 4, 2010
A must read for any young documentary photographer. We have this as required reading on many of our workshops. It's a true analysis of the medium by a master of the craft. Even if you're not a photographer, Bresson's words on images and photographs are inspired and thought provoking.
Profile Image for Li Jia Li.
38 reviews
January 21, 2017
A beautifully written book of what's photography is about and how's photographer's mind works. I randomly bought it at random second-hand shop on the road and turn out to be a great book. I will definitely read it again.
Profile Image for Patrick Hanlon.
510 reviews5 followers
January 13, 2018
The photographic master sums up his craft, his approach and his ethic in so many ways. My favorite quote: "people think far too much about techniques and not enough about seeing," articulates much about photography. A generous look behind the curtain.
32 reviews10 followers
March 5, 2019
Der größte Dompteur des Augen-Blicks, der raffinierteste Komponist der Wirklichkeit, auf Abzüge bannend, was seiner legendären Leica-Kamera vor die Linse kam: Er konnte Echtes, Gelebtes hineinkomponieren, in behexend schöne Bilder, die es nur für diesen Hauch von Zeit so geben konnte, so aufzunehmen gab. Cartier-Bresson, du verdammte Legende: Er hat einfach den Auslöser gedrückt, eine Heldentat! Das fällt mir viel zu schwer, lächerlich schwer manchmal, und das gar mit meiner kecken blau-weißen, durchaus digitalen Canon, die sich doch theoretisch dutzende Male an so einem Moment, an dem alles richtig ist, versuchen könnte, ohne dass aus Dunkelkammer und den Dämpfen des Entwicklerbads Verwackeltes und Ungeratenes herauskäme. Ich will die Welt nicht falsch aufnehmen, allzu oft, oder gar unnötig in Unordnung bringen, wenn sie sich doch von mir festhalten lassen muss, sie ist schon unordentlich genug. Cartier-Bresson sieht in seinem Medium hinter jeder Unze Ästhetik, die wir an einem Foto bewundern, eine rasche, kühne Entscheidung als Begründung. Nach diesem Ethos schreibt er auch: Elegant, knapp und eilend, bloß kein behäbiges Verweilen, mit Reflexionen jonglierend, blitzgescheite Einsichten formulierend, funkeln muss es. Manchmal macht das Cartier-Bresson'sche aphoristische Tempo wehmütig nach mehr eingreifender Meditation, mehr Erkunden interessanter Gedanken. Aber vielleicht verlören die dann auch an Strahlkraft, seine Prosa an Wendigkeit. Cartier-Bressons aristokratisch-verschmitzte Stilkunde seines Meisterformats, der formvollendeten Fotoreportage, garniert der Mitgründer des legendären Magnum-Imperiums dann noch mit lakonischen Reiseberichten von Orten, an denen das Ablichten dessen, was wirklich ist, gelegentlich rechtschaffen ungemütlich werden konnte: China, Russland, Kuba. Hier muss er sich stets und schnellstmöglich positionieren, auf der Straße, zu den ihm fremden Menschen, zur Macht im Land, mit seinem schicken, zwielichtigen Ewigkeits-Apparat in den Händen, rasch ans Auge gehoben, unter die hochgebogene Braue. Cartier-Bressons schmaler Band an Schriften endet mit sanftmütigen, oft scharfsinnigen, sogar vereinzelt anrührenden Miniaturen über seine engsten künstlerischen Weggefährten, Vorbilder und persönlichen Freunde, die eher den Charakter einer Sammlung von liebevoll-schwermütigen Schwanengesängen haben und dem Buch zum Schluss den unnötigen Nachgeschmack eines staatstragend hergerichteten Dokuments aus dem Nachlass geben.
Profile Image for Iain.
115 reviews
December 13, 2020
This is a small book and an easy read. It's nice that HCB's writings are collected in such a convenient and accessible little volume, and it's reasonably interesting. However, I keep wondering how many people who would pick up this book won't leave it a little disappointed? Hence the three stars. While I enjoy hearing his thoughts and anecdotes, especially the earlier sections that are more specifically photo-oriented, I'm not sure what I'll take from having read this. Much of it is a collection of brief descriptions of people he knew, and he shares the story of his trip to Russia and the process of getting permission for it, a description of his visit to Cuba and how he met Castro.

If that sounds boring, well... some of it might be, but he does write in a way that many will find charming, with some enjoyable or familiar phrases along the way:
"Approach the subject on tiptoe—even if the subject is still-life."
"A velvet hand, a hawk's eye."
"Blurred backgrounds in color photographs are distinctively displeasing."
"The camera is not the right instrument to provide the whys and wherefores of things."
"It's marvelous, such a sense of economy, which is the measure of taste."
"The eye as lighthouse in a storm."

I think if you watch the various interviews with him on youtube, you'll get a pretty good sense of what it's like to read his writings: enjoyable, but more for the wording and the interesting man he is than for the content. Based on his interviews and writings about himself, I'm left with the impression that Cartier-Bresson spent his whole life trying to make himself small and inconspicuous, "in order to observe better," in a world that wanted to enlarge him and shove him into the spotlight. His writing can be flowery, with clear indulgence in the enjoyment of the written word, but there's a sense that he's embarrassed at the attention and doesn't really want to be listened to. Fascinating man, but his writing isn't welcoming to the reader in the way that of some other photographers tends to be, and I can't say I'm left eager to seek out more of Henri's writing.
Profile Image for Craig Lore.
12 reviews2 followers
July 18, 2021
I bought this as a used book, fortunately, and wish that I’d gotten it at the library and saved the money. The “Mind’s Eye” portion of the book is at the very beginning and consists of about 40 pages (out of 105) of genuine insights that are very helpful. This helpful portion gives his opinions about the purpose of photography, how it differs from painting and other 2D art forms, and thoughts about the subject, technique, and the picture story. Some of his opinions are off, in my opinion—to not manipulate photos, by cropping, or enhancing, and dated—opinions about the use of color (which, to be fair, was quite new at the time of his writing).

Great insights: “The picture story involves a joint operation of the brain, the eye, and the heart. The objective is to depict the content of some event which is in the process of unfolding, and to communicate impressions.
“Of all the means of expression, photography is the only one that fixes forever the precise and transitory instant.
“Subject does not consist of a collection of facts, for facts in themselves offer little interest. …however … through facts … we are better able to select the essential ones which communicate reality.”

And my favorites, “People think far too much about techniques and not enough about seeing.”
“Technique is important only insofar as you must master it in order to communicate what you see. … But only the results count.

The remainder, and bulk of the book, is memoir-like about his experiences as a photographer in other countries—without any details regarding photography itself; plus another portion that gives mini-biographies of his friends and colleagues—again, without any photographic content.

The first section is worth reading, but I would try to borrow it from the library, rather than purchase a copy in which two-thirds are not helpful.
Profile Image for yangkhama.
75 reviews3 followers
December 22, 2021
This has been on my tbr for some time now & what a pleasant read it really was by a photographer whose photos i've studied many a times.
Although I tend to dismiss the seriousness of my vocations quite frequently, recording films & taking photos certainly have their serious side.
This not being the more popular work by the french humanist photographer, (the most popular being 'The Decisive Moment', a monograph of Henri Cartier-Bresson's best work) was no reason for it to be any less valuable.
As one of the founding members of Magnum Photos in 1947, Henri offers us an insight into his mind before, during & after photo-taking.
Having undertones of philosophy, Henri ventures into photography beyond technique, but rather more into the art of 'seeing'.
His work as a photojournalist was fascinating to read in the chapters that followed; his coverage of the 1949 Chinese Civil War & the Cuban Revolution amongst others.
I absolutely would have preferred to see more photos from said excursions however that would be digressing from the book's main purpose which was ultimately to offer a look behind the scenes & into the mind of a great photographer.
Profile Image for Lydia.
3 reviews
June 30, 2020
For someone wanting to “see” or to “learn the art of seeing” as I’ve made note that many admirable photographers frame this ability as an elemental key to the art of mastering photography and improving what images you capture with your cameras. This book illuminated that path as a short, inspirational read with less technically ruled details and more advice for “putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis.
It gives focus to the intangible personal aspects of what the camera can create when the photographer is thinking more attentively and with purposeful intent. I found it to be a gift of insight into how to develop more meaningful images and discover your own individual leitmotiv. There is nothing in this world without a decisive moment as Henri Cartier-Bresson states.
Profile Image for Nicolas Chinardet.
384 reviews85 followers
December 18, 2018
This is an odd little volume. The first section mostly expounds Cartier-Bresson's theories on photography. This is followed by a few short pieces of travel writing and finishes with scraps of texts about artists, HCB has known. A sprinkling of photographs, sketches and handwritten notes completes this heteroclite collection.

In a way this works like a photo album, gathering together disparate snapshots (visual and mostly written) without much context, and in the end little meaning.

The theoretical writings at the beginning are couched in rather obtuse language (this may be due to the the translation) which doesn't help shining a little on HCB's thinking. The rest is more explicit and more pleasant to read, particularly the travelogues.

Profile Image for Rajiv Chopra.
573 reviews12 followers
June 19, 2018
I like this book a lot. There are some real nuggets of insight here. The good thing about the book, is that it is short and concise. There is no verbiage, if I may use the term.

There is, however, a small issue. In a short book like this, you would expect that the insights would be more liberally scattered through the book. A lot of space is devoted to his own impressions of friends etc. This in itself, is not a bad thing. The price for this, however, is a bit high

The insights, when you come across them, are invaluable
Profile Image for Artguy.
295 reviews1 follower
January 20, 2020
Cartier-Bresson is a must know for all photographers, despite the fact that he fairly shunned accolades and even left behind photography in the final third of his life. He still celebrated great photographers and other artists, as printed in this book, which is a series of short writings he did about photography, art, artists, friends, and places.

Most people will read this to get insight into his view of street photography, but will probably come away remembering more how he described places like Cuba and China, and friends like Giacometti and Breton.
8 reviews
August 21, 2023
Henri Cartier-Bresson was best known for his photographs rather than his writing. The book makes this clear. While Cartier-Bresson's texts are sometimes witty, they lack the genius found in his photographs. He also didn't give many interviews or leave many writings. Most of the content of this book is taken from prefaces to his other books. Some texts were new to me, such as his opinions about his friends.
But it is precisely because he left so little in writing that this book can be considered precious.
Profile Image for Thomas Becker.
26 reviews1 follower
May 11, 2020
A marvelous read, like a good friend visiting you, engaging you with conversation to take your mind off of your troubles, whether it be COVID-19 or having your gallbladder removed. HCB writes like he's taking you into his confidence, revealing wonderous things about photography and life. This is the perfect little read for convalescence, just finishing a series and need a total change of subject, or as a gift to a photographers.
Profile Image for Vikram Moghe.
9 reviews
February 24, 2020
One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Not only will it make you think about and improve how you compose and frame a photograph, you’d be forgiven for thinking this guy is not just a legendary photographer but an accomplished writer too. So much of it resonated with me that I was either awestruck or was shaking my head in both agreement and disbelief with what I was reading
364 reviews
July 13, 2020
For anyone NOT familiar with this famous photographer's body of work, this little book won't mean a whole lot. Equip yourself with some familiarity and you gain much from the work. I particularly appreciated the wit and courtesy with which the author described some of his friends in Part III of the book.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 74 reviews

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