Henri Cartier-Bresson once said that “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” It was easily the most daunting lesson I took from the esteemed street photographer and photojournalist. But, did he really mean to discourage anyone who decides to pick up a camera and, well, get started taking those unsatisfactory thousands of photos? I think not.
It has been four years since I picked up my first two film cameras and decided to pursue photography from the most fundamental level. At the time, I was already aware that some people remedied undesirable shots with the latest imaging softwares, and I thought that was the lazy way to obtain good photos. I chose film because it can be a relentless teacher and medium—it’s either you succeed or fail; it’s either your photos are good or bad.
Fast-forward to more recent times, I learned that Henri Cartier-Bresson once said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” Taking into context the fact that the revered French street photographer and photojournalist lived and worked at a time when a photo can simply be either good or bad, I got the impression that being a photographer — or at least one who is capable of taking impressive photos — takes more than just owning a camera and knowing how to operate it.
Cartier-Bresson left many other lessons for aspiring photographers to ponder on, but it was this rather challenging remark that first made an impact on me. It felt like he was testing me, telling me that it won’t be easy, that I could go on wielding my cameras for years but will remain unsatisfied with thousands of my own photographs before I finally come up with just one I could call my best. It spoke of dedication, concentration, innovativeness, and attention to detail demanded from someone who wishes to pursue photography as an art. If I am not up to that challenge, I might as well retire my cameras, give my films away, and do something else.
Having said all that, I have no intention of taking Cartier-Bresson’s daunting lesson at face value. I believe none of us should. After all, I believe it’s possible for us to end up with satisfactory snaps we can boast of with enough practice. Instead, I see it as Cartier-Bresson’s reminder of the hard work that goes into acquiring the photographer’s eye for detail, understanding of good composition, and training to press the shutter only at the decisive moment. I guess it applies for both film and digital photography, but more so with the former as there is often very little you can do to remedy a poor shot permanently burned on film. After all, he also said that “The picture is good or not from the moment it was caught in the camera.”
I’m nowhere near half-way of my first 10,000 photos, but of course, I am determined to take that much if it means I get to be better with each thousandth shot.
What about you? It would be great if you can also share your thoughts on this!