I see photography as having two major currents: The American West Coast one, initiated by Edward Weston then Ansel Adams, which favors technical perfection, and the French one, which starts with Jacques Henri Lartigue, but is mostly known by Henri Cartier-Bresson (HCB), and which focuses on capturing remarkable moments. One image, one story.
I am an hybrid product of the dichotomy evoked above, as my training, even if in France, was very much under the influence of the American West Coast through my mentor, Denis Brihat, Edward Weston’s current spiritual heir. But my photographic style was also very much influenced by HCB, and beyond him by other photographers of the French School, as one can only escape so much from his/her origins.
The influence that Henri Cartier-Bresson has had on photography cannot be over-estimated. He is at the origin of the best in photojournalism, and his collection of masterful photographs is evidence of his unique flair and ability to capture the essence of a situation. He elaborated, and obviously illustrated, the notion of the “Decisive Moment,” which is indelibly linked with photography. His definition of the medium is also perfect: For me photography is the alloy of emotion and geometry. Confucius-like.
In early August 2009, my family and I were enjoying a couple days in Paris before heading back to North Carolina. We were coming from the Place des Vosges and heading to Notre Dame on a course of the essentials. Respecting one of my rituals, we passed by the Maison Européenne de la Photographie. Different lights reveal different patterns, and this is when I noticed the complex architectural puzzle created by the different buildings and enhanced with the reflection in the large glass panel. I started to frame it in the viewfinder of my M6 TTL. My 2/28mm aspheric was probably already on, as it is often my default lens, with a yellow filter also by default for b&w. I had 6 frames to go on that roll, and was shooting at the rhythm of passers by, because a purely
architectural scene never satisfies me. I find that too frigid, too much like an exercise of style, devoid of worthy purpose. Architecture has been invented by humans, for humans to use and enjoy, humans should therefore be present in our photographs of architecture, which is how this photograph started. If not, then we have only the geometry part of HCB’s definition of photography.
Of course humans are either actors or out of the control of the photographer. Here it took until the last frame of the roll to get something worthy. When this photograph was first published in l’Oeil de la Photography in August 2012, shortly after the death of Martine Franck, HCB’s wife, somebody emailed me from Berlin, saying that it was his wife on the photograph! She was studying in Paris then, and passing by, inadvertently offering me a 3rd degree photograph that I am happy to dedicate to Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Prints are available up to 25” tall, which is the size I prefer for this photograph.
Jean-Christian Rostagni is a French photographer living in North Carolina (USA) where he develops his style of lively photographs served by an immaculate technique. He is the title character of the Rodrigo Dorfman full feature documentary film Monsieur Contraste. He recently created Contrast Tours, through which he offers fabulous wine Tours in France, and soon unique photo tours as well. Explore his work on his website.