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.
My topic is People and Commerce, through an exploration of the shopping streets of Leeds during one Saturday in April. My intention was to discover something about myself through the principles I applied during the work.
I made this choice through my Reflections on the Decisive Moment (separate post). I wanted to attempt to put Cartier-Bresson’s principles into practice to discover something about myself through photography. How would it feel to sustain concentration on the moment for several hours? How would I cope with just remaining receptive what the moment offered and resist the urge to chase a preconceived idea? Could I photograph unnoticed, or as Cartier-Bresson says, ‘on tip-toe’? Would I be anxious of adverse reactions from strangers as subjects. What would be the output be, left to chance occurrences?
All photos were taken with a Fuji X-T1 and Fujinon f1.4, 35mm lens (efl 50mm). I chose this lens so I could experience the proximity my subjects that Cartier-Bresson experienced with his. I wanted no option of zooming from a distance.
For the shoot, I followed my nose around the main shopping streets are areas of Leeds, with no predetermine route. In total I took around 400 photos during the day. I think too many. There is a separate post with contact sheets for the images I considered as serious potentials for the assignment.
When processing the images, I set the raw files to a flat contrast and then manually added light and shade to reflect Cartier-Bresson’s words on processing – ‘…it is necessary also to re-establish the balance which the eye is continually establishing between light and shadow.’ And also to experience something of the manual effort necessary in a dark room. I chose to process in black and white to be consistent with my idea of following Cartier-Bresson’s original principles.
Commentary on the images
Waiting. ISO 3200, f/5.6 for 1/480.
I arrived too early for the crowds, as did this butcher, leaning in his doorway, waiting for custom. It captures the moment of a man perhaps contemplating the day ahead; a rare moment of piece at the start of the day ahead. I was struck by his pose and the bright lights of the shops drawing us in from the dull market street.
I chose a middling aperture and focused on the butcher, with the frontages of the shops more or less on the same plain.
Choosing. ISO 3200, f/2.8 for 1/2500.
In rich nations, we are often faced by an overwhelming choice in our high streets. This lady is frozen in a moment as she consider the vast array of fish on the counter before her.
Here, I selected a shallow depth of field so the lady was isolated against the spread of wet fish.
The Exchange. ISO 3200, f/4 for 1/640.
The moment of a transaction. When money is exchanged for product – the decisive moment in commerce. The customer’s wallet open in his hand and the shopkeeper’s hand in her till.
I selected a wide aperture to ensure the action in the foreground was isolated from the busyness behind the shop counter.
Respite. ISO 200, f/5.6 for 1/750.
Our city centres deliberately provide us with opportunities to rest from the sensory onslaught of commerce – in this case an open-space art exhibition. The moment here is the viewer of the photo propped up on his sticks, as the photo is also propped up on its sticks.
A middling aperture so the old man the the photo in front of him are both clear.
Boredom. ISO 3200, f/5.6 for 1/75.
I noticed the young boy, bored with the bookshop experience, heading off from his father with a look of intent on his face. Wondering what the boy would do, I watched and then saw him sit under the table in some kind of sit-down protest against the wheels of commerce. It was just a moment, before his father dragged him on again.
A shot taken in a brief moment – at the aperture I generally leave the camera set at in case a quick shot is required.
Homeward. ISO 3200, f/16 for 1/15.
After a day’s shopping there is the journey home. In this image, I saw the decisive indecisive moment. So many people in one image, wondering what next or when? Apart from the young girl in the pushchair with a look of tired dejection.
I’d steadied myself against a pillar to use a slow shutter speed to blur any movement in the scene. There is little apart from the foot of the boy in the foreground. The overall sharpness of the image has suffered a little.
My full reflections on this assignment prior to submission are in a separate post. In summary, my conclusions are:
- Of the many photographs I took on the day, only a few are anything approaching what could be considered a ‘decisive moment’. Though, I am pleased with the final edit in this context.
- It is difficult getting close to subjects with a standard lens without alerting them. I need to further practice ‘street-craft’ and, more importantly from an art perspective, consider alternative ways of engaging with subjects in this style of photography.
- Taking photos by focusing continually on the moment does induce a meditative state (perhaps this encourage Cartier-Bresson’s connection with Buddhism). The passing of time doesn’t seem to register with the mind and there is relaxed but acute concentration on the task. Much the same experience I have when playing guitar or used to find when practicing martial arts.
- Using Lightroom with local adjustments (in the manner of a dark-room) gives a more refined, I think impactful image, than relying primarily on global adjustments to an image. Though there is a time-cost to this approach and I needed to reprint most of the images as, on the first run, the shadows were too dark on paper.
Fitzgibbon A (2015). Fitzgibbonphotography.com. Reflections on the decisive moment (6 May) [online]. Available from http://context.fitzgibbonphotography.com/reflections-on-the-decisive-moment/ [accessed 12.5.15]
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Bresson HC (1999). The Mind’s Eye, writings on photography and photographers. Published by the Aperture Foundation, New York.
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