Integrative Seminar 2 — Visual Culture
31 January 2018
Henri Cartier-Bresson Response
Devastated faces look up towards Nehru, the man informing them of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. The light pours over the crowd in patches, lighting and reflecting off of tears and disbelieving expressions. Nehru and an unidentified man sit on a slightly elevated balcony. Their body language gives the impression of shock and devastation as the unidentified man sits staring off at the side while Nehru clutches the balcony wall as if it’s the only thing supporting him as he speaks his terrible news. Much of the image is blurred and chaotic, a feeling which must encompass the minds of everyone in the scene. The building in the background seems to be moving, as well as the trees, and the lamp post. The people however, are still. They are the only part of this scene which is seemingly frozen. They probably were for a moment that day.
This photograph is one that expresses emotion and an overall mood for the scene very well. It’s dark, it’s emotional, and it has a lot of movement within it, which gives the viewer a sense of reality. As a viewer, we feel close to the action, we feel the almost paralyzed state that the people in the photograph must have been in. The overall mood is easily read as somber, sad, and confounded, and when one looks at this scene, you feel these emotions coming through–you feel as if you’re a part of the crowd hearing about this piece of history for the first time.
These photographs seem to portray a good sense of what was really happening as news of Gandhi’s death spread through the country. The emotions on every visible person’s face in this specific image seem genuine. Henri Cartier-Bresson is just a part of the crowd, not staging anything or anyone, but documenting real people in a heartbreaking time. Although documenting such a personal moment in India’s history could seem controversial or as a sort of exploitation, these photos don’t necessarily read that way. Instead of giving the sense that Bresson was intruding, it appears to be as if he were just a part of the moments he captures. His photos aren’t always taken from the best angle, or with the best lighting. He took pictures where he could because he was more focused on capturing and documenting the powerful environment around him rather than on getting the most photogenic shot.
I think that it would be hard for Bresson’s photos to be viewed as staged or ingenuine. Especially after reading that people that he photographed in India appreciated the way he handled himself and his camera, I feel, as a viewer, less like I’m intruding on a personal moment. Still though, in other photographs in the collection I feel like I am seeing something that wasn’t meant for me–a specific example of this is the photograph which shows Gandhi’s body before cremation. Even with this photo though, I feel like it was taken with sincerity and good intentions.
I really enjoyed Bresson’s collection of photographs. I think that they provided a cool look into what parts of India are like, and the photos with and about Gandhi were touching and captured an historic moment in a beautiful way. Gandhi’s assassination was clearly a very emotional time for India, and Bresson’s images, specifically Nehru Announces Gandhi’s Death, depicts the effect that this event had on the people who supported him. From the use of light, to the movement, to the people’s emotions, this photograph stands out in a beautiful way. Every person in this scene provokes an emotion in the viewer. To me Nehru’s positioning and stance is the most striking thing of all. I feel like I can read the shock without so much as a word or movement, and as I stared at this piece longer and longer, the more I felt the power of the whole composition.