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Friday, February 23, 2007

The Charlie Rose Cartier-Bresson Interview

The Charlie Rose interview with Henri Cartier-Bresson has made its way online.

Cartier-Bresson interviews were always flawed, because no interviewer (that I've ever heard, anyway) was half savvy enough for Henri. Rose was particularly ham-handed, asking dumb and obvious questions that have a lot to do with what people believe about photography when they don't understand photography but think they do. He even speaks slowly to the old man, as if he were a child who can't understand. He brings up Cartier's obituary, which can't be a very tactful thing to do with a 90-plus year old man, and he makes dopey little errors throughout, as when he clarifies for the viewer that when Cartier refers to "Chim" he means "David Chim." (Chim's name was David Seymour). Cartier doesn't correct him. Sometimes Rose answers his own questions, for instance when he says, "You like portraits because...?" and then, before Cartier can answer, Rose says, "Every face is different." (Shut up.) Rose never puts his subject at ease, and Cartier-Bresson never warms to him (although he is visibly relieved as the interview nears its end). It's more than a little excruciating at times, almost embarrassing.

Still, the master is the master, and if you listen to M. Cartier-Bresson very carefully, all sorts of little gems flit by like sparrows past an open window. For instance, when he says "You mustn't want. You must be receptive." Throughout the interview I got the sense that Cartier-Bresson would have liked to raise bigger and deeper issues, but he just wasn't being led to them; he tried to wedge some of them in anyway.

This interview does contain one of my favorite "delicious ironies"—at one point (about 35:45 in this video) Cartier-Bresson says "I never crop"...and just beyond his right ear for the entire interview is the famous "Behind the Gare St. Lazare," which is one of two of his pictures that are always cropped (the negative contains a large bar of black all the way down the left side, and more foreground. The whole negative can be seen on p. 87 of Cartier-Bresson's new Thames & Hudson title, Scrapbook).

All in all, not great, but valuable nonetheless.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON, with thanks to Ken Tanaka


Blogger Samuli said...

It 's kind of same with Doisneau, for all of his life he shot street photographs at Paris, and the picture he is best known, was staged (at least to some degree).
Of course I'm talking about his famous "Le baiser de l Hotel de Ville",


2:14 PM  
Blogger MHV said...

Charlie Rose is indeed a despicable interviewer for all the reasons you mention (thank you!), and over at the message boards I've been chided for not expressing teary-eyed devotion to Rose for gettting to talk to The Master. I hate good sentiments, and a hack job is a hack job, regardless of whether you find diamonds in the dung of it.

The video has been out for quite a few months now, and it gives at least one eternal quote for HCB: "I am an anarchist" which reveals much more of him than anything else.

What it also reveals is the simplicity of his motivations and of his approach. I admire HCB because he does not esoterizes his work while still being actually right about a lot of fundamental aesthetic and practical issues with photography.

I don't think an artist must be treated with condescencion, but nor must one be treated with utter deference. In a unique way, I find that Rose manages to do both. Or does one because of the other.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Eolake Stobblehouse said...

I gotta brag a little here: you've seen Henri's photo with a man and a woman kissing by a sidewalk cafe table, with a dog looking on? The man is my big brother!

My brother had been dead a year or two by then, and my mother almost got a heart attack when she saw the picture.

2:23 PM  
Blogger pepeye said...

An appropriate subtitle for the Charlie Rose Show would read:

"No good answer left uninterrupted."

2:38 PM  
Blogger CJ said...

I found the interview to be so embarrasing I could hardly watch it. Charlie Rose was a total klutz and had no clue whatsoever. HCB looked very uncomfortable and was probably wishing he could be anywhere else.
- Clayton Jones

3:34 PM  
Blogger Player said...

It's comical that Charlie Rose doesn't realize that HCB would be the last person you would want to ask about the mysteries of great photography; Cartier-Bresson simply doesn't know. The answers are in the pictures.

Beethoven looked at a piano keyboard and he just understood it, it was no big deal. And he didn't know why he understood how to create great music with it. He just did.

HCB looked through a viewfinder and snapped pictures like, as he said, millions of others do. The rest of it he doesn't understand. If Charlie Rose wants to understand the mysteries of great photography he should ask mediocre photographers; they have all the answers.

Charlie Rose is a boor.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Impasse Lebouis said...

"Rose never puts his subject at ease, "and Cartier-Bresson never warms to him. It's more than a little excruciating at times, almost embarrassing."

Mike, I have to agree with you. HCB looks bored and even annoyed at time with Charlie Rose, even at the beginning of the interview, when Rose says "Geometry, are you born with that, sense of geometry". In disbelief, HCB looks sideways.

And the difference of culture is so evident when HCB says he's an anarchist. Rose doesn't have any clues.

But looking beyond that, there is a great lesson about photography given by HCB in this interview. One only needs to be receptive to hear it. For HCB, photography is about intuition and sentivity.


4:31 PM  
Blogger Derek said...

In Rose's defence, his interview style is probably intended to be accessible to the average TV viewer, not experts in the field. (There are far more of the former than of the latter.)

I thought HCB loosened up during the interview. He was smiling and joking near the end. Afterwards he said he enjoyed it. Maybe he was fibbing, I don't know. He could have just as easily stood up and said he had to leave, but he stuck around for a glass of wine.

I thought Rose was talking a little slowly too, but I assumed that was because HCB's native tongue isn't english.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Ralph said...

Thanks very much for pointing out this interview. An inspiring moment, despite the interviewer. Cartier-Bressons refined elegance, decency and wit and humanity shine through.

5:00 PM  
Blogger travis blanston said...

Of course he enjoyed it, as an anarchist should. That doesn't mean that it was a great interview, or that it went in the directions that it should have...

I agree that it was painful. Rose at least tried to save the session by visiting photographs to be discussed, but I had to hit my head against the desk when he started posing the exact same stupid questions only within the context specific to each photograph. Tony, there are some questions that, if you have to ask, you'll never understand. I guess that makes a problem for him, since his job is to ask questions.

The overall impression I got from Henri was that there was nothing really to talk about. Rather cute, actually. One thing I admire in Henri's behavior here is his unwillingness to give into the sensationalizing attitude that most interviewers are hunting for - the drama. He didn't play a long for a second. Got to be respected.

6:44 PM  
Blogger paul bk said...

I agree with all the C. Rose criticism. There was a time when I thought he (Rose) was insightful. I don’t know if I’ve outgrown him. Or, he’s grown into a plodding caricature of himself. Clearly he is not the renaissance man he thinks he is. Sadly, he gets many of the most interesting people in the world to interview. If only he’d bring in someone (co-host) equal to the task.

7:06 PM  
Blogger Chris_Yeager said...

I remember how Bresson's eyes lit up when they brought him a glass of wine at the end of the interview...

7:54 PM  
Blogger Ken Tanaka said...

I agree with the prevailing opinions concerning the awkwardness of the interview. (I've not seen much footage of HCB so it was interesting to see his personal mannerisms and style of speech.) Although I've seen only a few portions of Charlie Rose's other programs I also do not have a high opinion of his style.

So why the hell is he (probably) somewhat wealthy and famous? Somebody must be watching him.

8:01 PM  
Blogger Andre Barreto said...

Mike's quote of HCB is the answer for this whole discussion about Charlie Rose (and many other questions in life...)

"You mustn't want"

As a photographer one must not want the interview this or that way. In our place HCB would just be sensitive and try to absorb the most of it.

Derek and Ken got Rose's key to success. The average spectator is somehow comparable to the average photographer. That’s why Canon makes much more money than Hasselblad and Flickr has so many members.

Should one want everyone to be a great artist and a fine curator? HCB answered it again…

6:19 AM  
Blogger lramoth said...

I could barely understand half of what Bresson was saying but I came to find what a humble guy he was from this video. He also seemed a very intelligent guy. I wasn't suprised by his obsession with geometry and composition because I've always noticed he used mental tools like the golden ratio.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Bahi said...

Thank you so much for nailing that Rose interview. I've watched it three times over the last couple of months and each time, felt nothing but astonishment and pain whenever Charlie spoke. Unfamiliar with Charlie Rose, I quickly checked to see whether that Rose was widely acknowledged as being utterly unsuited to the job of interviewing people but no, that didn't seem to be the general opinion. Well, at least it's not just me - I feel a lot better now.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Mike Johnston said...

"I came to find what a humble guy he was from this video"

I'm not quiiiite sure that's the right word..."humble" is not a word that would ever come to my mind when talking about H. C.-B....


11:48 AM  
Blogger chantal stone said...

What I find terribly annoying is when someone asks a question with the expected answer already in mind. Rose did that. How many times did he have to ask HCB about being an anarchist? If he listened he would have known all along.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Ira Crummey said...

Charlie Rose probably should try some other field of broadcasting, like infommercials or voice-overs for those medication ads where they have to list the possible side effects. We have a local cable show that we sometimes like to poke fun at, after seeing this interview I suddenly have a new respect for our local host, she has Mr. Rose beat.

This interview had such potential, but it is truly difficult to watch. I keep wondering what Henri was thinking as his best comments were ignored and another lame question was posed.

Well, any interview is (marginally) better than no interview at all.


2:02 PM  
Blogger Magumi said...

I just could not force myself to watch the interview until the end, it was so embarrassing. What a wasted opportunity from that Charlie Rose chap.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I just stumbled on this post -- its accurate in the characterization of Charlie Rose, and thanks for finding the interview online. HCB remains present in my world even tho we miss him in "the world."

Back in 1997 when Dylan had risen from the almost dead, Charlie interviewed Susan Vega and a few others who understood and respected Dylan (another anarchist I think) and it was obvious that Charlie didn't have a clue. He just couldn't understand what the fuss was about. Now that the Great Bob is generally revered Charlie speaks his name in hushed tones. His lack of sincerity is deep.

He does often have people want to hear from -- if only Charlie would shut up!

(The 60 minutes interview with HCB was better but still no cigar. I like the 60 minutes Dylan -- in fact 60 minutes does much better than Charlie IMO)

5:02 PM  

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