Niki South Student number: 514516
Brief: Submit a set of between six and eight high-quality photographic prints on the theme of the ‘decisive moment’. Street photography is the traditional subject of the decisive moment, but it doesn’t have to be. Landscape may also have a decisive moment of weather, season or time of day. A building may have a decisive moment when human activity and light combine to present a ‘peak’ visual moment.
You may choose to create imagery that supports the tradition of the ‘decisive moment’, or you may choose to question or invert the concept. Your aim isn’t to tell a story, but in order to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, whether it’s a location, an event or a particular period of time.
Assignment notes: Submit assignment notes of between 500 and 1,000 words with your series. Introduce your subject and describe your ‘process’ – your way of working. Then briefly state how you think each image relates to the concept of the decisive moment. This will be a personal response as there are no right or wrong answers in a visual arts course.
INTRODUCTION TO SUBJECT
The decisive moment is not a dramatic climax but a visual one: the result is not a story but a picture. (Swarkowski, 2007, p.5)
As I had used street photography in with my previous assignment I tested other ideas initially; I wanted a different challenge. I experimented with capturing sea spray and waves, but found that though beautiful pictures, overall they lacked interest. I resolved then to return to street photography for this assignment, but try to find “my difference”.
I reconsidered the meaning of the decisive moment. Cartier Bresson defines the decisive moment as, “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” (Cartier Bresson, 1952). Others are decisive in different ways; Erwitt for instance instinctively pursuing absurdities (Golden 2003, p74), Diosneau waiting patiently (Lichfield, 2010), or Meyrowitz seeking astonishment, (O’Hagen, 2012), juxtaposition or constructing relationships.
Link to research page: https://nkssite.wordpress.com/category/a3-research/
I agree the decisive moment is “that infinitely small and unique moment in time which cannot be repeated, and that only the photographic lens can capture”. (Zouhaighazzi, 2004); however to discover what this meant in reality I headed onto the streets to capture images.
I learnt much about the practical aspects of street photography during my previous assignment, so I set out this time concentrating on really looking, observing and to capture some shots planned with strong geometrical composition and some spontaneous “moments”; I had starting ideas for subject matter and intended to present in monochrome to present a difference to my India street photography.
See planning mind map: https://nkssite.wordpress.com/category/a3-learning-log/
Whilst capturing I found that my style of looking was evolving. Often I composed a shot, even took it, then looked deeper and noticed something else adjacent or within more visually interesting. I quickly learnt to look deeper at the outset. From the first shoot I found some of my best images were those where there was a visually pleasing background or graphics where a person added substantially to the image. I began to pursue this theme. On my second shoot I returned to some locations to see if I could improve on any images and search for more; however my first shoot was the best and often the first shot in a series was the most effective. I generally found that if I waited too long for the completion of the composition, then the image appeared contrived. Converse to my plan, I realised that colour was important and enhanced my visual messages.
When editing I strove for “beauty in a fragment of time”, a fleeting precise organisation of form, as well as images that linger, engage the viewer or poses questions. I additionally looked for:
- Images with ambiguity or open to interpretation by the viewer.
- A graphic and/or visual message.
- A synergistic relationship between an environment and a person.
The theme for the series emerged: Images where the relationship between the environment and person create a decisive moment.
See link to editing mind map: https://nkssite.wordpress.com/category/a3-learning-log/
Technically I set the shutter speed to freeze the moment. I used my 16-300mm telephoto lens for the first shoot and after discovering that my images were all shot under 85mm I used my 17-85mm lens for the second shoot.
- To give homogeny to the series I used eye level viewpoint throughout and composed full frame, where I have cropped I maintain the original 3:2 ratio.
- I have presented in colour as in most images it accents an important visual component or creates a contrast in an otherwise urban coloured scene.
- The compositions were instinctive rather than fulfilling any rules. Framing mainly focuses attention into the images, separating the contents from their context. Focus is balanced between the environment and the person. Some images are more depictive than mental (Convergence and Metal man), whilst some function on a depictive and mental level (for instance, Smoking, Ambush, the Eye (Shore 2007, p 97).
HOW THE IMAGES CONTRIBUTE TO THE DECISIVE MOMENT:
- No smoking: As I rounded the corner I saw simultaneously the graphics of the man with the cigar and the man smoking beside it; the addition of the no smoking sign and the cigarette butts on the floor was a bonus. Realising the significance of this combination I shot quickly to capture it.
- Metal Man: This image is a picture not a story, created by waiting for a decisive moment. I was attracted to the metal shutter, stairs and rails but I needed something to create a picture. In my several attempts lying in wait, this “grey, sharp” man appeared with his unknowing face and metal briefcase; He created the visual climax of a “precise organisation of forms” (Cartier Bresson,1952).
- Never grow up: The graffiti clearly needed a human touch to create a picture. I knew if I waited the right person could turn this from a potential picture to a strong story. These subjects were a perfect enactment of the graphics and their exact location on the pavement was critical to the composition.
- Ambush: The idea behind this shot was at first accidental. I was focusing on gestures of a man and then noticed his backdrop. I moved in to create a possibility for an interesting composition, taking a number of shots experimenting with passer-by’s looking for juxtaposition, ambiguity, contrast or relationships. I choose this moment to shoot as the people and the positioning created a mini drama.
- Convergence: I found this building and graphics on a quiet street and knew that to complete the visual picture I should capture people exactly the correct position in the frame (converging) and against the graphics to complete the geometry of the composition and to emphasise the graphic message.
- The eye: I was firstly attracted to the line of bicycles and waited for a cyclist to appear to complete the composition. The eye was part of the pattern of image, however it wasn’t until I reviewed the images on site that I was really aware of the importance of the eye visually. I shot more but ultimately chose this first subject, as they seem to be looking at the eye looking at them; which creates tension and empathy. So my first impulse had been the decisive moment.
- Think safety: I was attracted by the graffiti background as a pattern and the text of the notices. I framed some pleasing compositions and hoped additionally for something interesting or even “unsafe” to occur, it didn’t. However I seized the moment when this man in the safety jacket appeared giving emphasis to the textual messages and completing a pleasing composition.
What worked well:
- I feel that all of the images are decisive moments, they were the perfect moment to press the button.
- My observational skills deepened enormously during the shooting and editing.
- Flexibility with the assignment. Unlike my previous assignments I was fluid in my thoughts and preparation and much more instinctive when shooting.
- Working with colour in a different way, as an accent rather than as a main component.
- I was more decisive and instinctive when editing and forming the series.
What didn’t work so well and how the series might be improved in the future:
- Now I am in a more decisive mode and have learnt that often the first shot is the best, I will try to take less images to catch the image that I want.
- Technically I would like to move to from shutter priority to manual.
Cartier Bresson, H. (1952). The Decisive Moment, New York: Simon & Schuster.
Golden, R (2003). Masters of Photography. 3rd Ed. London. Goodman.
Lichfield, J (2010. Robert Doisneau: A window into the soul of Paris, Independent Sunday 5 December 2010. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/robert-doisneau-a-window-into-the-soul-of-paris-2151370.html (accessed 30.1.16).
O’ Hagen, S. (2012). Joel Meyerowitz: ‘brilliant mistakes … amazing accidents’. Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2012/nov/11/joel-meyerowitz-taking-my-time-interview (accessed 30.1.16).
Shore, S (2007).The nature of photographs. 2nd edition. London. Phaidon.
Szarkowski, J (2007). The Photographer’s Eye. New York: MoMA.
Zouhairghazzal (2004). The indecisiveness of the decisive moment. http://zouhairghazzal.com/photos/aleppo/cartier-bresson.htm (accessed 28.2.2015).