Part 3 The decisive moment – where do I stand?

Does one actually have to have a ‘position’ and just exactly what does having a position actually mean?  Is this something that you can be for or against?

For what it is worth I think there is a problem with the expression itself.  It is worth remembering that this is just the English title for the book whose original French title is “Images a la sauvette”.  Whilst my French is these days somewhat rusty I would translate this, literally, as “pictures in haste”.  “The Decisive Moment” has a ring to it but even though HCB himself chose the English title I do feel that something got out in translation.  I feel the French title more effectively sums up what HCB was on about; seizing a particular instant as it occurred.  Blink and you will miss it.  The English version moves off into different territory of, for example, ‘significance’ or importance that I do not believe is what HCB really meant.  It has as a result become weighed down by ideas of theory, you might say has become a ‘school’, which perhaps explains why there are so many pictures out there that in some way mimic what HCB did but are without any real sense of individuality. let alone originality.

My feeling is that it is something that describes what HCB did, what was important to him in his practice, and should remain as such and not be treated as a ‘big idea’ or theory and universally applicable technique.

While looking into the subject generally one thought that nagged at me throughout was how do we know this was truly the decisive moment?  We do not know what came before or after so how can we judge?  If HCB had taken multiple shots and then chosen the right one we might have been able to see but I am not sure I have ever seen the sort of contact sheet left by HCB that would enable us to do so.  I think therefore that we can only take it that for HCB that instant was the right one to take the shot, but that does not mean that it would necessarily be the same for anyone else in the same situation.

From this point of view the Photo-Eye Magazine article about Paul Graham’s “The Present” was interesting.  I do not necessarily agree with everything he has to say but I do like the idea of exploring a view in a multiple of moments, to see how things change, to explore other possibilities.  In a way, by concentrating on just one particular moment HCB deliberately closed down the possibility of other moments being decisive.  If however the idea is to snatch and capture a particular moment I see no reason why you not try to capture a number of moments, to open up the possibility of alternatives, without having to indulge in sociological pessimism and ennui.


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