30 of Our Favorite Quotes by Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson is still considered one of the founding fathers of photography and a master of candid images. He was one of the first users of 35 millimeter film and one of the most renowned street photographers.

He coined the term “the decisive moment” which many photographers still use today when referring to capturing the right time in photography. Lastly, he was one of the founding fathers of Magnum Photos in 1947, which is still a heavyweight when it comes to some of the best photographers in the world. His work has changed the world, so we wanted to take a moment and help you find more inspiration through his words.

These are some of our favorite quotes by the late master photographer Henri Cartier Bresson.

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” 

“The photograph itself doesn’t interest me. I want only to capture a minute part of reality.”

“To photograph: it is to put on the same line of sight the head, the eye and the heart.” 

“A photograph is neither taken or seized by force. It offers itself up. It is the photo that takes you. One must not take photos.” 

photo of a running child by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

“The intensive use of photographs by mass media lays ever fresh responsibilities upon the photographer. We have to acknowledge the existence of a chasm between the economic needs of our consumer society and the requirements of those who bear witness to this epoch. This affects us all, particularly the younger generations of photographers. We must take greater care than ever not to allow ourselves to be separated from the real world and from humanity.” 

“Of all the means of expression, photography is the only one that fixes a precise moment in time.”

“The creative act lasts but a brief moment, a lightning instant of give-and-take, just long enough for you to level the camera and to trap the fleeting prey in your little box.”

“Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.”

photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

“Think about the photo before and after, never during. The secret is to take your time. You mustn’t go too fast. The subject must forget about you. Then, however, you must be very quick.”

“To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.”

“Photography is, for me, a spontaneous impulse coming from an ever-attentive eye which captures the moment and its eternity.”

“This recognition, in real life, of a rhythm of surfaces, lines, and values is for me the essence of photography; composition should be a constant of preoccupation, being a simultaneous coalition – an organic coordination of visual elements.” 

inspiring photography.

“Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.”

“Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.”

“Memory is very important, the memory of each photo taken, flowing at the same speed as the event. During the work, you have to be sure that you haven’t left any holes, that you’ve captured everything because afterward, it will be too late.”

“For me, the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity.”

inspiring images by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

“Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.”

“Reality offers us such wealth that we must cut some of it out on the spot, simplify. The question is, do we always cut out what we should?”

“While we’re working, we must be conscious of what we’re doing.”

“We must avoid however, snapping away, shooting quickly and without thought, overloading ourselves with unnecessary images that clutter our memory and diminish the clarity of the whole.” 

best quotes by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

“A photographer must always work with the greatest respect for his subject and in terms of his own point of view.”

“In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little, human detail can become a Leitmotiv.”

“Photography is an immediate reaction, drawing is a meditation.”

“You just have to live and life will give you pictures.” 

Henri Cartier-Bresson using dynamic symmetry composition.
Henri Cartier-Bresson using dynamic symmetry in composition.

“As time passes by and you look at portraits, the people come back to you like a silent echo. A photograph is a vestige of a face, a face in transit. Photography has something to do with death. It’s a trace.” 

“The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt.”

Paris by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

“As far as I am concerned, taking photographs is a means of understanding which cannot be separated from other means of visual expression. It is a way of shouting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one’s own originality. It is a way of life.” 

“Thinking should be done before and after, not during photographing.”

“I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us.” 

Group of children by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

“Of course it’s all luck.”

“It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart, and head.” 

We hope you found some inspiration in this article! Lastly, you can read more quotes by famous photographers or learn about the best photographers in French history. We even put together an article on the best places for photographing the streets of Paris.

Leave us a comment if we missed any of your favorite quotes!

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Krystal Kenney<span class="bp-verified-badge"></span>
Krystal Kenney
Krystal Kenney is an award-winning photographer residing in Paris, France. She has been photographing for over 10 years and enjoys teaching others about the craft. She spends most days shooting events, portraits, and weddings around Paris and working on writing new books.

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