EYV 5 Exercise 5.3

The brief

Look again at Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare. 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?

For me the pivotal point in Cartier-Bresson’s Saint-Lazare image is the area I’ve cropped below – the v-shape formed by the leaping man’s legs and the smaller v-shape formed by his front boot and its reflection. This is where the essence of the image is captured, showing the leaper in mid-flight a millisecond before he makes contact with the ground, and bestowing upon him the gift of being perpetually suspended in mid air, as close to being a bird as it’s possible for a man to be. His outstretched foot is sure and confident; there’s no possibility in our minds that he might stumble or even splash himself. He is carefree, light of step and light of heart, enthusiastically hurrying home, we imagine, after an honest day’s work to a loving family. Whenever I think about this photograph, it is this part of the image that I picture in my mind’s eye.

Drilling down even further to locate an actual point, I would select the gap between the front boot and its reflection as being the single key point of the image. This is what holds and defines the energy of the image, and without it the scene would not have its sense of urgency. This point is emphasised by its location in the photograph, located at a position that naturally invites attention, close to the dividing line between the central and bottom thirds of the image on the horizontal plane, and centrally positioned in the right-hand third of the image on the vertical plane.

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Derrière la gare Saint-Lazare (1932)