Exercise 5.3

Looking at Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photograph Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, I think the main point my eye is drawn to is the foot of the figure in the foreground that is about to hit the water. My eye then moves to take in the rest of the figure, the reflection in the water and then on to the poster on the wall of the building behind which seems to have a leaping figure – along with the reflection in the still water, it almost seems like another reference to the foreground figure.

The information contained in that point is a story. It’s a moment caught between future and past. I can see what will happen in the future; the foot of the leaping figure will hit the water, causing a splash; ripples will obscure any remaining reflection. The shapes in the foreground will vanish at that point; their circular form will blend with the form of the new ripples and those just made on the left of the image. The figure will leave the frame and I can imagine the feeling of emptiness and lifelessness that will remain. I can see what has happened in the past. There is a physical trace in the few ripples on the left of the frame, but the direction in which the figure is leaping confirms that.

Apart from the background figure, when this future has taken place, the remainder of the elements in the frame will remain in position; to me, that is where the link with the Theatre series by Hiroshi Sugimoto comes in despite one image being an exposure of fractions of a second and the other an exposure of hours. Sugimoto has made an exposure that might be of a thousand decisive moments; the information contained in the light emanating from the screen has been recorded, but so much information that now only light, the carrier of the information, is recorded as a white rectangle in the frame. But the surroundings of the cinema are unchanging, giving a sense of life having been in the image, having left it’s impression, but now having left it.

Both this image by Henri Cartier-Bresson and images in the Theatre series by Hiroshi Sugimoto have this sense of story and so a sense of eternal return. Barthes said that cameras are ‘clocks for seeing’. That, to me, means not just that we can see into the past, perhaps by looking at images of our parents before we were born, but also that we can see into a specific moment in time and so perhaps we can also see into the future. In the documentary ‘L’amour de court’, Klavdij Sluban said, ‘I think all photography is always here and now.’ And it must be; all we ever really have is here and now. However, we use the hear and now to both confirm the past and extrapolate the future.