Part 3 Project 3 What Matters Is To Look – Cartier Bresson “Just Plain Love”

Henri Cartier Bresson is the photographer famed for this black and white images depicting precise moments where movement and what he calls the “geometry” [], or structure of the architecture and architectural accessories such as railings, the subject/subjects, have come together to make a photograph that resonates with many who view it. The concept of the “decisive moment” (ibid) is associated with Cartier Bresson.

In the Five Part Documentary “Just Plain Love” [], Cartier Bresson asks us the viewers, “what are you doing with this?” (Part 1 []). It’s a valid question. What are we doing with life? What are we doing with any form of art we might be practising? What are we doing with photography? Are life and photography connected? I feel they are.

Cartier Bresson goes on state that, “what matters is to look” because he states “most people don’t look, they press the button, they identify. But to seek the meaning beyond this? Very few do it” (ibid). I feel that his statement is accurate. We may be instinctively drawn to something without looking particularly. We may go further and get a little better at looking. But can we see what draws us to looking at a particular scene or subject? Can we see the preferable angle of view, that’s more interesting? Do we see what the photograph communicates? Do we see ourselves?

Cartier Bresson describes that when it comes to photography “luck matters,……You have to be receptive, that is all” (Part 2[]). He further talks of “geometry” of “the physical rhythm” and of caring more for “form (more) than light” (ibid). Bresson has had the opportunity to practise his receptiveness yet his descriptiions of his childhood and other times in his life suggest there was a strong sense of intuitive receptiveness and the desire to look and feel from the start.

He describes his drawing as having similarities to photography, as a form of transcribing what is seen. I like this comparison. I’d also like to extend it to seeing what is within, the accumulated memories given what has already transpired in the interview where Bresson has elucidated as to seeking meaning beyond identification, which I see as often being at a subconscious level. If we can’t see the truth of our experiential learning then we are unlikely in my opinion to see the truth of what may or my not be happening around us – and we are surely likely to be weaker at making photographs that communicate.

When asked if we can learn to look, Bresson appears slightly amused. I like this. My experience was that at times in my life, I couldn’t look. And whilst I can practise looking now, I couldn’t have been taught to look in the form that a teacher might teach a child to read. And now I look often, though it’s something I feel may become stronger in time.

Cartier Bresson’s comparison as to the difficulty of looking is that that’s become the title of the documentary. Looking is love, “it’s just plain love”, (Part 4 []). It seems the truth.

(Word Count – 515 excluding references)


Cartier Bresson, H, It's Just Plain Love, Available at

Cartier Bresson, H, The Decisive Moment, Available at