Henri Cartier Bresson on Learning How to “Look”

Here’s a photography lesson from Henri Cartier Bresson that you probably didn’t expect.

Henri Cartier Bresson is a man who needs no introduction; his works being timeless and the basis of most photography doctrines up to the present. As we continue to seek his words of wisdom on how to take better photos, there are still some gems to be uncovered here and there. One we recently found is a snippet of an interview where Bresson answers the question, “Can one learn to look?”

It seems like an easy question to answer, but the master of the “decisive moment” himself must have felt it deserves something more unconventional than expected. Almost immediately, he likened looking to making love, and even love itself, to make the point that all of us learn it eventually. It takes time to develop a need or taste for it, and how we “look” is something personal, natural, and innate to us. We all “look” at things differently.

But how does learning how to “look” happen? His answer is at the same time both straightforward and not: “To look is to go to the Louvre Museum and to look at Reuben’s paintings.” Simply use your eyes and look around you. Study the works of the masters and look for the details that make their artworks exceptional. It may teach you something about what to look for, which is important when you’re just starting out in a creative venture like photography.

Love in many forms is also a potent inspiration for all kinds of art, photography included. Bresson himself acknowledged this fact in the interview. It’s easy to see how love for life can inspire us to search for better stories to capture as they unfold before our eyes.

Then, Bresson also shared his belief (or was it a foresight?) that there will come a time when we’ll have teachers for virtually everything, including learning how to “look”. Was that foreshadowing of all the street photography workshops and tutorial videos that we have today? Highly likely.

Now that you have an idea how to “look”, why don’t you try learning how to zone focus with your Fujifilm camera and unleash your inner Henri Cartier Bresson?


Screenshot image from the video.