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Masters of Photography

Lesson 4 of 25

Influences: Cartier-Bresson

Steve McCurry

Masters of Photography

Steve McCurry

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Lesson Info

4. Influences: Cartier-Bresson

Lesson Info

Influences: Cartier-Bresson

(gentle piano music) I think one of the most important learning tools of photography is looking at great photography books, and as I started studying photography, I was looking at the books of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Andre Kertesz. There was people like Brassai, his work at night in Paris, Robert Capa. But I think some of the pictures which influenced me the most were pictures taken on the street, kinda stories about ordinary lives, people doing ordinary things. Pictures have told great, emotional stories, and were pictures that made us think, pictures which had some emotion. I think of Elliott Erwitt's pictures, how wonderful they are, the humor and the simplicity. And they seem so effortless, but it takes a great eye and a great craftsman to come up with those picture. I think of Henri Cartier-Bresson's work, again, working in his home town of Paris, or working in France, or working in China, or Indonesia. Wherever he was working, there was this simplicity, and a very kind of off-ha...

nded quality to the pictures. It would seem just so casual, but yet crafted so well, very precise with composition and light, that told really great, human stories. I think it's important to really have a really wide view of photography, look at a lot of different kinds of photographers and photography. I think of Diane Arbus, and how influential she was. Araki, with all of his crazy pictures from Tokyo. Interesting, wonderful, very yeah, the guy's kind of a photographic genius, in a way. Probably the most influential book, in my view, in photography was Andre Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment, made back in the early 50s. This was a travels through Asia, and it was something which really influenced generations of photographers, the way he saw, the way he worked, his portraiture, the decisive moment approach. So I think, you can't underestimate his influence, not only myself, but with all photographers in general. The term decisive moment actually was borrowed from a carnie, from another century, but in a way, really, that phrase decisive moment really so apt a description of Andre's work, where he was able to go into a situation and find the defining moment, something where the composition and the light and the activity, all the choreography, the sort of this ballet of human, the dance, everything that came together in sort of one magic moment, and he was able to catch that magic moment, better than anybody else. It was always great to take your new book, or a body of work, over to see, and show that work to Andre in his home in Paris. It was a bit frightening, because he would not mince words. If he didn't like the work, he would be very upfront about it. So it's always a bit, added a bit trepidation about going in to see him, but I must say, he was always very kind, and always had good things about what I showed him. And I have incredible respect for his work. We had traveled in many of the same parts of the world, India, Southeast Asia, China, Russia, and he had such a prolific body of work, and had traveled literally all over the world. And at that time, it was much more difficult to get from here to India, back in the 40s. Many of these journeys had to be taken by long sea voyages. Now, you can jump on a plane and be anywhere on the planet in a matter of a few hours. But he was probably, again, the most influential photographer, maybe ever. Well, Andre's main piece of advice to me was do your commercial work in color, but do your personal pictures in black and white. (laughs) And I must say, I never followed that advice. Maybe that was a big mistake, (laughs) but I always thought that for me, the world is in color. So much of the story in certain places, certain countries, the story is the color. So for me, I decided to go in a different direction. I think the main way I learned from Andre, was simply by looking at his pictures, and seeing how he framed the kind of light, the kind of particular moment. That was really the best learning tool for me, it wasn't really anything he had to say. It was just looking at his pictures, and that's where you could really see the essence of who he was as a photographer. One of my favorite pictures of Andre's is the picture of this incredible composition, this staircase, and he waited for this man on a bicycle to pass through the picture, kind of completing this incredible composition. And it's kind of a magical moment. It's sort of this wonderful composition, and there's this instant, there's this kind of decisive moment where the bicyclist kind completes the picture. I just always thought that was an incredible design, and a great moment. I think photographers have always walked around a particular place, it could be their neighborhood or anywhere, and you'll see something, you'll observe the movement on the street, and you see how the possibility of some juxtaposition between two objects, or two pedestrian passing by a poster, or whatever. And these always make for interesting pictures. Takes some patience. It takes some pre-visualization. You see something, and you imagine a picture could happen if you wait for the light, for a passerby, for perhaps, some dogs are playing in the street. Andre Cartier-Bresson has some incredible pictures of dogs on the street, doing incredible things. It's just, sometimes it's so... magical that you can't believe that a human being could take such an incredible picture.

Class Description

Steve McCurry has been one of the most important voices in contemporary photography for more than thirty years. Masters of Photography is bringing Steve’s class to CreativeLive to share the learnings from his iconic career. Steve will teach how to:

  • Find a subject to photograph
  • How to shoot in all types of weather condition
  • Understand the light at different times of day
  • Improve your compositional skills
  • Blend into the environment so that you can capture impactful street images
  • Use his 8 key tips in order to capture the best portraits

Watch and learn with Steve as you accompany him through the fishing villages of Portugal and in the vibrant streets of Havana. See for yourself how he creates images, as he shares ideas and experiences, and explains how to make great photographs. Steve will also suggest some projects for you to try for yourself.

You can use any device from camera phone to’s all about the image and storytelling.

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Adriana L-G

For me this is not a class, is more the photographer talking about his photos and his experience. It is a little repetitive but I enjoyed. From Masters of Photography I loved Joel Meyerowitz's class and I recommend it strongly. In case you need to choose.