Friday, May 13, 2016

An Interview with Cartier-Bresson on the X-Pro2


I’ve had my X-Pro2 for close to two months. During that time, it’s traveled more than 9,000 miles with me, through sunny days and rain, to dimly lit interiors and fast-paced street-fashion. After putting this camera through some serious paces, I believe Fuji may have finally brought us back full circle to the design and approach started by Leica. To check that feeling, I decided to touch base with someone who ought to know: Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Cartier-Bresson was uninterested in cameras and technology. He cared solely for moment and composition, and wanted the technicalities of the camera to get out of the way. In the days of film, this was possible: the camera was a box that held the recording medium, and it was short work to understand the capabilities and limitations of a given film. 

Color photography first, and then digital, changed the landscape. New and necessary considerations had to be dealt with in order to get an image made. The possibilities and options quickly overwhelmed the original purpose of the camera. Soon, features— like panoramas, auto bracketing, sharpening, noise reduction, simulations, HDR—took the primary role, because those decisions have to be made before the photographer even considers composing an image. The technology subsumed the art, even as it attempted to solve problems.

And so it’s gone for many years, with each iteration of camera introducing more features, more buttons, and more decisions, each of which takes the photographer away from the sine qua non of photography: observing and capturing a moment. 

With the X-Pro2, Fujifilm has a good argument that it took many complex technological innovations and evolutions to get the camera back to what it’s designed to do: get out of the photographer’s way.

The X-Pro2 is powerful and complex. Contained in its magnesium, waterproof body, is a sensor capable of recording 24 megapixels with a remarkable dynamic range. It has both an optical rangefinder, and an electronic viewfinder that refreshes its 2.36 million dots at up to 85 frames per second. It can shoot at 8 frames per second with a silent electronic shutter. It can focus precisely onto any one of 273 autofocus points, or be manually focused. It has pages of menus with myriad options and customizable buttons.

Indeed, the X-Pro2 is so powerful, it doesn’t need any of those options turned on at all.

And that’s the genius of this new camera. Fuji has created a device so sophisticated that it’s circled back to the beginnings of still image film photography and provided us with a box which is so capable that the photographer can set the ISO, set the shutter speed, set the aperture, and then just shoot. No menus required. No manual required. Fuji designed the camera to allow the photographer to ignore all but the essentials by placing all the primary functions on knobs, and not in menus. With the X-Pro2 and a couple of small lenses in a jacket’s pockets, one can once again get back to the essence of photography. Or, if you share the visual philosophy of HCB, maybe just a 50mm (or its equivalent) and no other lenses.

Which is why I believe HCB himself would have used an X-Pro2. To test that suspicion, I sat down (tongue firmly in cheek) with the creator of photojournalism and asked him about Fuji’s latest camera.

The Interview

When did you get your first camera, and which one was it? 
I, like many another boy, burst into the world of photogra­phy with a Box Brownie, which I used for taking holiday snapshots. 
But now you’re using the X-Pro2. What are your impressions? 
It became the extension of my eye, and I have never been separated from it since I found it. I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to "trap" life – to preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize, in the confines of one single photograph, the whole essence of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes. 
What’s your opinion on the ergonomics? 
If you have little equipment, people don’t notice you. You don’t come like a show-off. It seems like an embarrassment, someone who comes with big equipment. . . . It is enough if a photographer feels at ease with his cam­era, and if it is appropriate to the job he wants it to do.  
I understand you shoot in Aperture Priority only. Why is that?
The actual handling of the camera, its stops, its exposure-speeds and all the rest of it are things which should be as automatic as the changing of gears in an automobile. It is no part of my business to go into the details or refinements of any of these operations, even the most complicated ones, for they are all set forth with military precision in the manuals which the manufacturers provide along with the camera and the nice orange calf-skin case. If the camera is a beautiful gadget, we should progress beyond that stage at least in conversation.  

[Note: My X-Pro2 didn’t come in a nice orange calf-skin case. I guess there’s a “Magnum” edition?] 

What’s your opinion of the Acros Film Simulation? 
Black-and-white photography is a deformation, that is to say, an abstrac­tion. In it, all the values are transposed; and this leaves the possibility of choice. The difficulties involved in snapshooting are precisely that we cannot control the movement of the subject; and in color-photography reporting, the real difficulty is that we are unable to control the interrelation of colors within the sub­ject. 
Do you find it useful to be able to shoot at 8 frames per second with the X-Pro2? 
[I]t’s essential to avoid shooting like a machine-gunner and burdening yourself with useless recordings which clutter your memory and spoil the exactness of the reportage as a whole.

So, there you have HCB’s rather strong opinions on Fuji’s new flagship!

HCB's answers provided from the following: