By Joe Cameron
I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but to those bemoaning the fact that they live too far away to see the traveling Cartier-Bresson show and therefore can’t experience "original prints," I would say that some photographers' images work best, and do best what they are intended to do, on the printed page—not gallery walls. I would include most photojournalists in this category, and Cartier-Bresson is a case in point.
I appreciate seeing original work as much as anyone. One of the seminal experiences of my life was stumbling into a Rothko retrospective at the Tate many years ago. It was late on a rainy London afternoon and the paintings were lit only by somewhat faint skylight. At first I was irritated that the galleries were so dark, but after sitting for many long minutes and acclimating my eyes to the ethereal atmosphere, a vast new world opened that I shall never forget, one that cannot be duplicated in the form of a book.
But I also remember hearing the photographer Ralph Gibson suggest once that the deep rich black of printer’s ink came closer to conveying his ideas than the silver of printing paper. He was glad to sell 'original prints' to collectors but he implied that the book pages holding his images were truer to his vision.
Both of these examples, however, are about how important the material which makes up the image is to its impact and communication. To the contrary, it seems to me that Cartier-Bresson’s photographs (and most photographs for that matter) attempt to bypass the vehicle of their conveyance and present the actual physical world intact. And sometimes books can pull this off more effectively than the austere walls of a gallery whose purpose is to emphasize the preciousness of objects.
So take heart—for a small sum of money (the price of a book) you can enjoy the full beauty of Cartier-Bresson’s work, at its best, and in the comfort of your own home.