This is not a film that I had seen before but I did not exactly come to it fresh having first done some reading around the subject of the decisive moment.
Whilst the course book talks about the importance of dealing with quotations appropriately, which I fully take on board, I am not sure that I feel it particularly useful in this case to quote from the film. So far as the concept of the decisive moment is concerned I think I have probably already quoted enough in my research post. I also feel that this film, rather than a photo or a written text, is more akin to a drawing – HCB’s first and last love, to which he returned later in life having virtually given up photography. As such it is something that has to be looked at as a whole, and reacted to accordingly. To quote anything would be as incongruous as looking at individual lines of the drawing in isolation. That would not tell you anything about the drawing as a whole.
So what, over all is my response to the film? One point that strikes me is that if it had not been for the fact I had already read around the subject I am not sure I would necessarily be much the wiser about what the decisive moment is. It is not so much that HCB is evasive on the subject (there are similar feints, vaguenesses, incomplete answers, in his conversations with John Berger) but he does not really give everything away. I wonder whether to some extent his approach was so instinctual, and rooted so much in obsessive observation that the idea of the decisive moment was in some way an ex post facto rationalisation to give meaning to what he did. I do not know, and it is not necessarily a negative thing if that is the case. Certainly though his vagueness and reticence strike me as being imbued with a degree of embarrassment that his phrase has become so freighted with ‘significance’. For HCB it is just what he did – he looked, saw something of interest, and took a picture.
Just as he seemed reluctant to expound upon his practice I was particularly touched, if that is the right word, by his reluctance to talk in detail about his past. I got the clear impression that there were events and things that had happened to him in the past that he does not remember fondly and would simply rather not talk about. Perhaps it is his Buddhist belief at work, living in the moment and not dwelling in or on the past? Strangely he reminded me a lot of my own late grandfather had lived through much but rarely chose to speak of his past.
Otherwise I was impressed by his firmness and strength of character, his readiness to criticise his own work and to resist and challenge attempts to set it upon a pedestal and idolise it.
I have to confess I am not much impressed by his own writings, as I commented in my blog post about “The Mind’s Eye”, but I found his sparse answers and laconic manner to be much more interesting, and not least endearing.