Book Review: An Inner Silence, The Portraits of Henri Cartier-Bresson

An Inner Silence is a concise collection of portraits from the renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. After a short foreword from Agnes Sire and introduction by Jean-Luc Nancy, you are left alone to peruse nearly 100 photographs at your leisure – and you’ll want to absorb the book in this way.

This is not the sort of collection you should attempt to digest in one sitting. Like an expensive box of chocolates, you wouldn’t necessarily work your way from top to bottom in a linear fashion and neither would you over face yourself just for the sake of finishing. Rushing through either is likely to leave you remorsefully unsatisfied.

Instead, you should take the time to inspect and enjoy the treats individually. The framing, the humour, the timing, the lighting, the expression, the direction, the shapes, the shadows and that thing you just can’t put your finger on.

In order, out of order, at a glance or thoughtfully inspected, the photographs present to the aspiring photographer a visual lesson in the elements that make a successful capture. This may be a book of portraits, but many of the qualities on show transcend the subject matter and could equally apply to landscape, still life or any other type of photography you might be interested in.

This is an easy book to recommend to photographers. My only reservation would be to those who perhaps already own other books dedicated to Henri Cartier-Bresson, as I have found, within my own collection at least, a lot of overlapping content.

You can learn a lot about photography from books. And although in this particular instance it’s almost all show and no tell, that doesn’t mean it can’t teach.

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