THE DECISIVE MOMENT

Niki South Student number: 514516

REFLECTIONS ON FORMATIVE FEEDBACK

My Tutors feedback has given me much encouragement.

Strengths highlighted:

  • Scouting, planning and patience whilst shooting.
  • Editing from lots of images post shooting, as well as reviewing and reshooting whilst on location- This I was especially pleased about because I felt after my last assignment that this was an area that I needed to develop, and had lost confidence in; this time I had more of a “feel for it”, I was instinctive about which were the images to choose.
  • Forming a cohesive project – I struggled with this more the previous assignment, I believe I overthought it at first; however this time I found that the idea for the series for emerged almost by itself as I was editing, and I went with the flow.
  • The use of humour – This was a relief as was nervous about how that would be perceived.
  • My visual and conceptual viewpoints.
  • Creativity – I was particularly pleased about the positive comments about this as I had set out on the streets to “find my difference “and thought that one had emerged. This happened in part as I took my tutors advice from the previous assignment on not over planning, and being flexible whilst working through the assignment.
  • My self-reflection.

Areas for development:

  • Study the images to see whether they need any post processing (a couple would benefit from lifting the shadows).
  • Consider slower shutter speeds if needing to increase depth of field (for the future).
  • Trying a “pop of flash” when shooting on the streets (for the future).

My own Learning points:

  • To trust my instinct, remain flexible throughout an assignment and have more confidence in my photography.
  • That recognising the decisive moment, and acting instantaneously is essential to successful photography.
  • To move to using manual settings as a default.

Link to work submitted to tutor: https://nkssite.wordpress.com/category/a3-work-submitted-to-tutor/

Link to learning log:The Decisive Moment: https://nkssite.wordpress.com/category/a3-learning-log/

However these mind maps summarise the narrative of my preparations, post-shooting thoughts and editing notes contained in the learning log.

Preparations notes:

planning mind map

 Post shooting notes:

Post shoot mind map

 Editing notes:

Editing mind map

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LEARNING LOG: THE DECISIVE MOMENT

Niki South   Student number: 514516

THE “DECISIVE MOMENT” DEBATE:  

Where I stand Part 1 (pre shooting)

I am comfortable at this stage with most of Cartier Bresson’s concepts and assertions, however there are many who are more critical. O’ Hagen (2014) questions why although “The Decisive Moment” (Cartier Bresson, 1952) changed photography forever, it has been republished and asserts that it cements out of date ideas. Certainly Cartier Bresson stressed the importance of composition, and liked to instinctively fix a geometric pattern into which to fix a subject. O’Hagen suggests that “The idea that he lay in wait for someone to walk into a precomposed frame may explain his extraordinary hit rate” (2014). He weighs this against the photographical methods of Garry Winogrand or Joel Meyerowitz, who he suggests pounded the streets in search of the right convergence of light, action and expression rather than patterns and geometry and others like Frank and Eggleston signalled the future, and considers that the book is now a historical artefact:

“It cements an idea of photography that is no longer current but continues to exist as an unquestioned yardstick in the public eye: black and white, acutely observational, meticulously composed, charming. Colour and conceptualism may as well not have happened, so enduring is this model of photography outside the world of contemporary photography itself.” (O’Hagen, 2014)

In an essay in the London Review of Books (2013), Gaby Wood wrote, “The reason his photographs often feel numbly impersonal now is not just that they are familiar. It’s that they’re so coolly composed, so infernally correct that there’s nothing raw about them, and you find yourself thinking: would it not be more interesting if his moments were a little less decisive?”

Having immersed myself in the work, methods and thinking of Henri Cartier Bresson during these exercises and research I feel that I need to step back and see how the experience of shooting the assignment affects my stance on these things. I intend to enter into the spirit of Henri Cartier for the assignment:

“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.” (Cartier Bresson, 1999).

Where I stand Part 2 (post assignment):

Having scouted and shot on the streets I now feel better placed to give my view on the decisive moment. I set out with a plan to shoot geometric patterns with a subject completing them. Initially looking for compositions like Cartier Bresson’s there was something lacking, however as I worked my way into the shooting, outcomes seemed to improve. Probably my “looking” improved so that I was able to capture more interesting moments; I whole heartedly agree that successful photography is “a spontaneous impulse coming from an ever attentive eye which captures the moment and its eternity(Cartier-Bresson, 1952).

What I did find was that whilst some of my shoots were fairly coolly composed, my most effective shoots were more spontaneous and decisive. Certainly my experience taught me that most often my first shot was the best, even after spending time trying to improve on an image and that observation and fast reactions are vital to capture decisive moments as “Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again” (Cartier Bresson, 1952). I’m not sure as Gaby Wood (O’Hagan, 2014) suggests, that Cartier Bresson did “coolly compose” them, but most likely that he just had a good eye and instinct.

Some may now see his images as overly correct, not raw enough or passé, but however you view his images there is no doubt in my mind that he was a master of the decisive moment which is a combination of observation, readiness, instinctive composition and technical skill. In no way do I believe that the decisive moment belongs to another photographic time, but that it is essential to successful photography today. It may be that everyone’s decisive moment is different, depending on what they are looking for, but “ that infinitely small and unique moment in time which cannot be repeated” (Zouhairghazzi, 2004) is critical to effective images.

References: 

Cartier Bresson, H (1952). The Decisive Moment. New York. Simon and Schuster.

Cartier Bresson, H (1999). The Mind’s Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers.  New York. Aperture.

O’Hagan, S (2014). Cartier-Bresson’s classic is back – but his Decisive Moment has passed. The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/23/henri-cartier-bresson-the-decisive-moment-reissued-photography?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other : (accessed 25.2.16).

Zouhairghazzi (2004). The indecisiveness of the decisive moment. http://zouhairghazzal.com/photos/aleppo/cartier-bresson.htm (accessed 26.2.16).

LEARNING LOG: THE DECISIVE MOMENT

ASSIGNMENT 3

REFLECTIONS AGAINST ASSESSMENT CRITERIA

Demonstration of technical and visual skills:

  • This assignment drew on my visual awareness which I think is quite strong, but even so I was aware during the assignment how much further my observational skills deepened.
  • I used my instinctive compositional skills but learnt much at a mental level about what it is that completes a composition.
  • I used a lens that I had not used before which I had inherited (17-85mm) and broadened my tool kit in the future, I can be over reliant on my telephoto (16-300mm) and wide angle lens as I am so familiar with them.
  • I found it challenging on shutter speed where I predominantly use aperture priority; this maybe why I moved away from closer shots of people as I would have wanted to use depth of field to isolate subjects and moments. I did however learn how to use shutter speed to freeze at the optimum level in the assignment and to blur in the exercises.
  • I only used post production to clean up one image (because of shadows) I did reshoot on a different day to avoid this however I felt that the original image was the most decisive so used that one.

Quality of outcome:

  • I was much more confident during the editing process; I did set myself criteria to work against when choosing images, but alongside this I used my instinct about what was effective/interesting and found that my link for the series evolved spontaneously rather than being forced and that this was more satisfying.
  • I am sure the printing could be improved on, I used a professional laboratory and I will trial other printers in the future to compare.
  • I am aware that I have one portrait shot amongst 6 landscape shots, but the images were chosen for their individual strengths and the order that I have presented them in would be their “hanging” sequence.
  • I hope that I have presented and communicated my ideas effectively in my learning log and essay.

Demonstration of creativity:

  • During the exercise I was experimentally creative, especially in project 2 A durational space. I used my imagination alongside observation when I was shooting. I believe that it was my imagination and sideways thinking that led me to bringing environments and people together to create decisive moments.
  • I look forward to being more technically experimental in future assignments.

Context:

  • It was different for me to have a context which evolved during the shooting, this took me out of my comfort zone and was challenging but ultimately enjoyable.
  • I needed to do a lot of reflection to get myself into “the decisive moment” but particularly to discover what it meant to me.
  • I learnt  that a decisive moment can be spontaneously captured or patiently hunted, however I also learnt that the first shot, the first angle, the first idea is usually the best one – to be instinctive.
  • I applied my learning from the reading and exercises of Part three.
  • I realise the importance of continuing to research and visit exhibitions to broaden my knowledge, as I know I am at the tip of the iceberg and how useful knowledge is.

LEARNING LOG. THE DECISIVE MOMENT

Assignment Three

1st thoughts: To me “The decisive moment” instantly screamed street photography, however having used this predominantly for my Crowds assignment I tried at first to think outside of the box. I toyed and tested the idea of sports photography; I then tested freezing and blurring waves and weather moments. I captured some good images but though some were beautiful, they seemed one dimensional and were not images that lingered in my mind later. Ultimately I felt that I needed to work with human subjects as a part of a composition and therefore returned to street photography.

Preparations: This mind map outlines my initial thoughts about using street photography as a medium for this assignment:

planning mind map

I decided that presenting the work in monochrome would fit in with the spirit of the Cartier Bresson “Decisive moment” and give me a noticeable difference and separation from the colourful street photography and a new challenge.

The first shoot: I set out on my first serious shoot with a variety of ideas, but with the intent to be spontaneous and instinctive to see what developed. I headed to various locations in London as from my “test” shoots locally I knew that I would need a higher footfall to increase my chances of capturing something interesting. I found as the day wore on my “looking” improved. I pursued two ideas initially; firstly composing a partially geometrically pleasing shot and waiting for a subject enter to complete it, secondly watching for interesting gestures or behaviours (especially people looking lost). Reviewing the images, few of my earliest attempts of the first group were particularly pleasing, though I had caught some interesting gesture images. However shooting instinctively as the day wore on I the images that had the most impact had interesting backgrounds (street art, graffiti, signage, pattern and colour) with a human subject that added to this in a significant way. Some of these were caught quickly and spontaneously (smoking), while for some I had to wait patientlyto combine all the necessary elements together (never grow up).

The second shoot: Having reviewed the previous shoot I was focused on what I needed to complete the series: interesting backgrounds with people to complete/enhance the composition. Although I had almost enough images already for the assignment. I needed to be certain that I had got the best that I could, by revisiting some of the locations could I improve on them? I resolved to remain alert for good “gesture” shots and any interesting accidental catches, keeping my options open just in case I changed track again.

Reflections post shooting: I was able to capture a few more good images, but the 1st shoot had been by far the best.

Post shoot mind map.JPG

This mind map shows my editing criteria:

Editing mind map

After the 1st shoot I eliminated my concept of “lost people” which were not effective and thought that I would eliminate gestures also, although I had a few good images:

_MG_1495 discard                                     _MG_1561 discard.jpg

I chose the locations that had brought the best compositions and then concentrated on choosing the best image for each. My options were converse to other assignments, as this time I had a narrow number of locations but a wider number of images at each location to choose from. This enable me to reduce my possible images to eight locations. These are the last 4 images that I dismissed:

_MG_2063 almost.jpg      _MG_2353 Almost.jpg

_MG_2144 Almost.jpg   _MG_2440 almost.jpg

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.
  • Juxtaposition.
  • A graphic and/or visual message.
  • Contrast
  • 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.

 

LEARNING LOG: THE DECISIVE MOMENT

RESEARCH FOR ASSIGNMENT 3

I had already researched some street photographers for Assignment 2, in particular Alex Webb, Garry Winogrand and William Klein, as well as reading tips from Eric Kim (see link). I have researched Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Frank during this project’s exercises and additionally investigated these photographer’s to further broaden my view.

Additional research in preparation for assignment 3 

Robert Doisneau

A French humanistic photo journalist (1912-1993) who was a “deft and amusing observer of the minor aspects of life and culture which define frenchness” (Golden 2003, p 62). He considered that “The marvels of daily life are so exciting; no movie director can arrange the unexpected that you find in the street (Pollack 1977, p 144). His work bridges documentary and art. He was innovative and combined modernism, surrealism and narrative in his photographs.

In 1950 Doisneau created his most recognizable work for Life magazine – Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville (Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville), a photograph of a couple kissing in the Paris streets. Apparently he never liked the photograph, perhaps because he had posed it. More typical Doisneau images of the 1950s are unposed, but still carefully stalked and framed (children, prostitutes or market porters, and other street-dwellers in the unfashionable, parts of Paris). “He would often find a location, or a “stage” as he called it, and lie in wait for many hours for the right action or characters to arrive.” (Lichfield, 2010).  He has also been described as a photographer “with an eye on the world and a love for others” (Clark 2016).

Doisneau   Doisneau 2  Elliot Erwitt 3

Elliot Erwitt

A French documentary/commercial photographer with a sense of humour, who has captured some of the defining images of the 20th century. His images may sometimes look simple but on closer inspection are not. A “gently mocking and probing eye that has always preferred to look at life’s absurdities rather than its ills” (Golden 2003, p 74). He has been called a purveyor of the “non-photograph” and “combines a deceptively casual approach with an unrivalled, sometimes gloriously silly, visual sense of wit. (O’ Mahony 2003).

He has a masterful technique although believes that the instinct that creates great photography is casual and uncontrollable. He is widely considered a ‘master’ of the indecisive moment, as he captures the irony and absurd of daily life.

Elliot Erwitt 2   Elliot Erwitt Elliot Erwitt 3

Joel Meyerowitz

An award-winning New York photographer, who is a “street photographer” in the tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank, although now workings exclusively in colour. He was instrumental in changing the attitude toward the use of colour photograph. Speaking to Sean O’ Hagen he said “A lot of what I am looking for is a moment of astonishment,” (Guardian 2012). He believes in “recognition and the power of the frame to put disparate, unrelated things together” (Kim). Meyerowitz often uses juxtaposition or constructs relationships between subjects.

Meyerowitz 1   Meyerowitz 2   meyerowitz 3

References:

Clark, D (2016) Diverse Doisneau in Amateur Photographer 18.14.16p 30-31.

Golden, R (2003) Masters of Photography. 3rd Ed. London. Goodman.

Kim, E (unknown) 82 lessons from the masters of street photography. E book.

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).