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Moment” (Cartier Bresson, 1952) changed photography forever, it has been republished and asserts that it cements out of date ideas.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“It cements an idea of photography that is no longer current but continues to exist as an unquestioned yardstick in the public eye: black and white, acutely observational, meticulously composed, charming.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.
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).