Read 1st November 2019
‘A Bible For Photographers’ is an essay written by Clement Cheroux which is issued alongside the the second edition of the Steidl printing of Henri Cartier-Bressions’ book ‘The Decisive Moment’. The Essay analysises the process of making the book through to its contents.
The title for the essay was taken from Robert Capa’s description of the ‘The Decisive Moment’ being “a bible for photographers”. (Capa 1972, cited in Cheroux 2018:3)
Clement Cheroux explains within the essay that Henri Cartier-Bresson preferred the medium of books rather than that of a magazine quoting Henri Cartier-Bresson as saying ‘The words are those of the photographer, but the phrasing is that of the magazine.’ (Cartier-Bresson 1959, cited in Cheroux 2018:3) He also explaines that Henri Cartier-Bresson found it frustrating that he did not have any control over the chosen images, the sequence that they were arranged, and their layout when published in the media.
He then goes on in his essay to detail the attempts that Henri Cartier-Breson made to produce a photography book prioir to ‘The Decisive Moment’ coming to fruition. These attempts went back into his early career to around 1933.
Following this Clement Cheroux details the collaborations that came together in order to make ‘The Decisive Moment’ a reality from Teriade, Armatiage Watkins to Richard L. Simon of Simon and Schuster, together with the support of Magnum Photos and Robert Capa and his family.
Clement Cheroux dedicates a section of the essay to highlight the uniqueness of the physical book itself. The size of the book being 37 x 27.4 cm in order to perfectly accomodate the images contained within, which were taken on 24 x 36 film. This allowed a page to be filled by a single vertical image or two horizontal images with an even border. Alternatively it allowed for a single horizontal image to spread over two pages. Furthermore, the orignal edition was printed by the Dreager Brothers on the highest quality white matte paper encapsulating the book within the realms of Fine Art. The printers were able to obtain a vast tonal range allowing for detail to come through within the shadows. Conversley the highlights worked on the same premise and were not left pure white allowing more of the detail to come through. Care was also taken in the binding of the book allowing for the book to open up flat between the pages.
Clement Cheroux continues the essay by highlighting that the book is effectively split into two parts. The first part mainly compromising of photographs taken prior to the set up of Magnum Photos in 1947 and the second part comprising mainly of photographs taken during his time at Magnum upto 1952.
The Essay continues to explore the uniquness of the book explaining that it was exremely rare for a photographer to write the text contained within the themselves and least of all a ‘How to text’ which Richard L Simon insisted on.
The essay provides a comprehensive and easy to understand insight into the making of ‘The Decisive Moment’ from its conception though to the finished article.
It was interesting to read about all the different collaborations that came togther to make the book a realisation. In addition to the amount of thought put into the whole process from the introduction, layout and physicality of the book itself.
It was also fascinating to learn how rare it was for the photographer to write the Foreward and for this to be a ‘How to’.
All in all this is an interesting read which allowes a better appreciation for the uniqueness of The Decisive Moment.
Published April 2018
A Bible For Photographers