Derriere la Gare Saint-Lazare

cartier-bresson-henri-iza-gare-st-lazare-paris-1932

He was arguably the last century’s greatest photographer, and the photograph above was to Time magazine, “The Photo of the Century”. While honored and remembered as the premier photojournalist, Henri Cartier-Bresson also gave the world the jewels of the street photography, most famous among which was this 1932 picture, Derriere la Gare Saint-Lazare.

By then, photographs of puddle jumpers were clichés, but as New York Times remembered, “Cartier-Bresson brings to his image layer on layer of fresh and uncanny detail: the figure of a leaping dancer on a pair of posters on a wall behind the man mirrors him and his reflection in the water; the rippling circles made by the ladder echo circular bands of discarded metal debris; another poster, advertising a performer named Railowsky, puns with the railway station and the ladder, which, flat, resembles a railroad track.”

However, the picture that defined Cartier-Bresson’s career was ironically one of only two pictures he cropped. He detested the darkroom techniques and to prevent his editors from cropping, he sent his pictures with a black border — the frame he himself imposed at the instant he snapped the picture. However, behind the train station, he couldn’t managed to do this:

“There was a plank fence around some repairs behind the Gare Saint Lazare train station. I happened to be peeking through a gap in the fence with my camera at the moment the man jumped. The space between the planks was not entirely wide enough for my lens, which is the reason why the picture is cut off on the left,” he explained in his usual laconic manner.

Read H.C.-B.’s obituary by James Nachtwey here.

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