Few days ago, while I was returning home from a meeting, I suddenly stumbled upon a scene of a child playing near a puddle. She jumped over it and I took the photo. It was a nice little scene and it even made a very pleasing image. It just happens to have a lot of resemblance with one one of the most well known photos in the world. The obvious question is, whether this is indeed a Henri Cartier-Bresson inspired image and if so, to what extent?
Henri Cartier-Bresson is the most well known photographer in the word and he’s known for many things. The photograph of a man jumping over a puddle is one of them. Just in case you haven’t seen it, here’s a link. If I’m not mistaken, the image is titled Place de l’Europe, Stazione Saint Lazare and it’s shot in 1932.
Cartier-Bresson influence or not?
I don’t have a favourite photographer as such. I of course look up to the great masters of yesteryear, but there are plenty photographers who’s philosophy and teachings I enjoy more than their actual photographs. I’m personally more a fan of photography in general, rather than a fan of a specific photographer. For example, I get more inspired from Henri Cartier-Bresson’s legacy and words than his actual photograps. Looking the famous puddle jump image objectively doesn’t give me much kicks as it is. BUT it is important to realise the historical and cultural significance to understand why it has become such an iconic photo. Taking the historical significance out of the equation, It isn’t however in my personal top 10 list of favourite photographs, purely as a photograph. It isn’t even my top 50. The puddle jump isn’t the kind of image that would inspire me to the extent that I’d go out to the streets, trying to specifically replicate a similar photo as a pre-meditated act. My image was pure luck.
The answer to whether this is a Cartier-Bresson inspired image is yes and no
I’ll describe how this photo took place. It happened really quickly and the so called Bresson inspiration wasn’t present in the moment as such. The jump just happened to take place in front of my eyes and I was able to react to it with the camera. While I was pressing the shutter, I realised of course, the upcoming similarity with the famous image, but I had no control of what was happening because why would you? What ever happens in the street, happens in the street and you’re just an observer with a camera. Remember that we are talking about candid photography. No posing, framing or asking permission.
The process isn’t calculative or pre-scripted at all, because the subject can be anything and emerge out of nowhere — as in this instance. The subject just happened to be the girl jumping over the puddle and I took the picture with intuition based reaction with the camera. Very little of conscious though or so called planning went into it, because it was just a lucky coincidence. I didn’t go out trying to find a specific shot like this. I didn’t think “hey, I think I’ll make a puddle jump image today.” The entire scene, from spotting the subject to the shutter closing, took probably four seconds in total. There isn’t enough time to think. I know it’s a cliche, but photographs like these kind of just take themselves, using the photographer as a tool to give birth to themselves.
Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.
— Henri Cartier-Bresson
The shooting style and philosophy of course is inspired the teachings of the old masters. In that respect, there’s the Cartier-Bresson inspiration, but on the other hand, it’s present in all my attempts, no matter whether there’s a puddle jump taking place or not.
It is merely a pure luck that this photo came into existence. Of course, I probably wouldn’t have taken the image, if I hadn’t recognised it as a good subject and noticing the familiarity with the original image. If I wasn’t at all inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson, or not ever seen his work, there’s a great possibility that my image would have not came to be.
I shot three or four frames from this same scene. This image is the first one of them. I noticed the scene just seconds before the shutter went off. It was if I didn’t even press the shutter myself. The shutter almost just went off by itself, at the right time, because it was so strongly intuition based. I was able to react because I saw the child playing near the puddle and I immediately had the suspicion that she might attempt a jump over it. She had a similar kind of body language as a cat, who’s estimating a jump. One second later she did indeed jump and I just took the image. I had maybe one or two seconds to take a step to the right, in order to compose the image. The girl continued to play for a while and she even made couple of other jumps, but rather in the puddle, not over it. Her parents were occupied by other things and nobody seemed to mind or even notice I was there. I took few other pictures because I was hoping the situation to develop. This time it didn’t develop though, because the high point of the entire scene was at the very first frame. The other photos aren’t anything to write home about and I’m not comfortable to even share them.
In the end I think this photo turned out just fantastic. The entire creation process; stumbling unto the moment and being able to make a nice photo out of it, was really satisfying. Just the kind of experience that keeps me doing this. When I developed the negative, I went online to share it. I knew it was going to happen and indeed the Cartier-Bresson comparisons started to roll in. To be honest I was worried about being accused of taking advantage of a famous photograph by copying it, but there was actually surprisingly small amount of that going on. At the end of the day, it got received for what it is — a nice little spontaneous homage to one of the world’s most famous photos.