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Likeness in Henri Cartier-Bresson's Photo-portraits

Cooperstein, Shana (2011) Likeness in Henri Cartier-Bresson's Photo-portraits. Undergraduate Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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After the invention of photography, modern theoreticians were hopeful that photography's faithfulness to nature would resolve painterly deficiencies by providing a more recognizable and convincing reproduction. Paradoxically, the advent of photography did not improve upon painting's failures, but exhibited an inherent problem. In particular, aspects of temporality hindered photography's ability to reproduce a convincing likeness. Concerning this issue, Gombrich opines that it could be "[…] true to say that we never see [in reality] what the instantaneous photograph reveals, for we gather up successions of movements, and never see static configurations as such."1 Because the constant motion of the eyes as well as the ephemeral nature of existence limits perception, I am studying the techniques used to convey aspects of "likeness" in the celebrity photo-portraits by Henri Cartier-Bresson. To establish what stylistic choices contribute to a recognizable portrait, I will analyze Bresson's photographical methods which he delineated in "The Decisive Moment." Bresson's concept of the decisive moment, far from falling within modernist accounts of photography's medium specificity, actually traces back to a much older discussion, one concerned with unearthing relations between photographs and paintings. As examples of this discussion, I look to ideas expressed by late nineteenth-century photographer-scientist Francis Galton and police officer Alphonse Bertillon. These theorists ascertained that photographs are not representative of a sum-total or synthetic image which humans perceive, but are indicative of an imperceptible instant. While Bresson's conception of photographic likeness relates to ideas espoused by Francis Galton, I also prove that Bresson's work is distinct from Galton's as it relates to human typicality. Whereas Galton's ideas concerning likeness relate to a need to arrive at ideal types, a comparison of Bresson's work with broader developments in the history of the concept of objectivity and image making reveals the ways in which Bresson's conception of typicality is distinct from that of Galton.1 Ernst Hans Gombrich, The Image and the Eye: Further studies in the psychology of pictorial representation. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1982, p. 50.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairEllenbogen, Joshjme23@pitt.eduJME23
Committee MemberMcCloskey, Barbarabmcc@pitt.eduBMCC
Committee MemberKing, Elaine
Committee MemberSavage, Kirkksa@pitt.eduKSA
Date: 5 May 2011
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 5 April 2011
Approval Date: 5 May 2011
Submission Date: 20 April 2011
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History of Art and Architecture
David C. Frederick Honors College
Degree: BPhil - Bachelor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Undergraduate Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Henri Cartier-Bresson; likeness; photography
Other ID:, etd-04202011-155441
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:39
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:41


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