Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare

Photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Photography is just luck. There was a fence, and I poked my camera through the fence. It’s a fraction of a second.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare

  • Henri Cartier-Bresson
  • 1932

Speed and instinct were at the heart of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s brilliance as a photographer. And never did he combine the two better than on the day in 1932 when he pointed his Leica camera through a fence behind Paris’ Saint-Lazare train station. The resulting image is a masterpiece of form and light. As a man leaps across the water, evoking the dancers in a poster on the wall behind him, the ripples in the puddle around the ladder mimic the curved metal pieces nearby. Cartier-Bresson, shooting with a nimble 35-millimeter camera and no flash, saw these components all come together for a brief moment and clicked his shutter. Timing is everything, and no other photographer’s was better. The image would become the quintessential example of Cartier-Bresson’s “Decisive Moment,” his lyrical term for the ability to immortalize a fleeting scene on film. It was a fast, mobile, detail-obsessed style that would help chart the course for all of modern photography.

The first edition of The Decisive Moment, named for Henri Cartier-Bresson's distinctive style

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