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Photography: Photo, Paper, Digital, Black & White on Paper.
The first and only time I met Henri Cartier-Bresson was in summer,1969 in San Francisco.
An old friend of his, Jimmy White, had worked with HCB in China during the fall of the Kuomintang and China takeover by Mao's Communists.
White, an old working friend of HCB from that time, had seen my photography when I applied for work as a photographer for the Associated Press, San Francisco where White was a newsman.
White exemplified Associated Press's high journalistic standards for accuracy, newsworthiness, reporting, and writing.
White was a working friend of Cartier-Bresson during the fall of of the Nationalist Chinese, known as the Kuomintantg, and remained an admirer of HCB's huge, lifetime body of work.
My application for AP San Francisco photographer was approved and, unknown to me, I had been mentored by Cartier-Bresson's old friend, White. White had compared my early work to HCB's.
I arrived the day prior to my first work evening at Associated Press, and Jimmy White told me I should meet his old friend and China buddy' Henry. White used the anglicized pronunciation of HCB's first name.
I had never heard of HCB, and did not have any understanding of HCB's huge and wonderful body of work.
So when Jimmy White compared my early work to HCB's it left me befuddled instead of ecstatic. Before my first photo shift the following day I went to meet 'Henry', White's'old buddy'. He's showing some photos over on Van Ness St, White told me.'
Unaware of HCB's worldwide prominence, I found he was opening an an exhibition of his life's work at San Francisco's best museum, the De Young.
I went and met Cartier-Bresson for a brief chat prior to viewing his work which was unknown to me
HCB and I chatted on the museum's outdoor steps. He noted that the AP work I was to start later that afternoon would involve chasing fires, cops and inevitably shooting football, basketball and baseball.
I really was not interested in sports photography, but the S.F. Bay area had prominent pro teams in those three sports and a huge variety of other sports.
I did not relish standing with huge telephoto in the cold, windy chill of Candlestick Park vying for a shot of a home run or a great catch. I wanted to shoot what later has become known as 'street' work. The designation 'street photography' is something I didn't hear for the following two or three decades.
Cartier-Bresson told me he could not any more get work; the great pictorial magazines had been replaced by television. He painted a bleak picture of photography's future.
He sensed I really wanted a career as a photographer and advised me best to 'shoot for yourself, John' than work a job he said had no future and from which there was little sideways mobility.
Then, alone, I toured his work and was absolutely enthralled. I wanted to buy some of his best, but my salary was $135 a week before deductions, not enough for prices, almost all below $500, for each masterpiece.
I understood that Cartier-Bresson deserved the designation as one of the all-time great photographers and had a style that was similar to my work then.
I reasoned I'd only be seen and categorized as a HCB wannabe if I continued.
I went to AP that afternoon and qut the new photographer job before I first assignment.
The AP chief and editor had spent great effort to get me hired; they liked me a lot. They suggested I become a 'newsman' instead, writing AP stories.
I responded that I had not attended journalism school or ever had written a news story..
I bowed to their pressure and said 'I'll try' the writing slot.
They handed me a clipboard with notes about a lost child in Yosemite.
I called Yosemite rangers and the very young child, believed dead in sub-freezing cold for a number of nights, had been found alive. I interviewed the child by phone.
My first story highlighted this now found child's encounter in Yosemite wilderness with a 'big black bear' and was printed on front pages nation and world wide My future as a writer was sealed.
I did as Cartier-Bresson suggested and never seriously worked as a paid photographer for any serious time after that.
I did as HCB exhorted.
I shot for myself thereafter.
This image of a hand testing for rain framing a pony stepping up Metro (subway) steps in Kyiv Ukraine raises a question that will never be answered: Did the man leading the pony take his little horse on the Metro?
And if so, how?
The framing arm and hand held out testing for rainfall in my view so perfectly frames this extraordinary scene that this image represents a capture that will happen once in a lifetime.
I felt had caught the moment HCB's work was noted for.
I think HCB would be proud I followed his advice and shot for myself.
Artist featured by Saatchi Art in a collection