Assignment three – The Decisive Moment – Assignment notes and final set

As previous posts show, I have tried a number of different approaches to the decisive moment.  Not all of them have been successful and I have not found it possible to put together a coherent set of half a dozen images from just one shoot that meets the criteria of the brief.  There have been a few images from each shoot that do say something to me about the concept and which I do like. Mostly though I do not feel they hang together as a set.  I have though settled on six images from across the shoots that do have something in common and that I feel do work as a set.

f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 100

f/6.3, 1/50s, ISO 100

f/4, 1/50s, ISO 100

f/6.3, 1/100s, ISO 100


f/16, 1/125s, ISO 400

f/2.8, 1/60s, ISO 100

Each of these images was, at one level, taken “on the fly”, which is consistent with HCB’s original idea of “images a la sauvette”.  Of perhaps one of his most iconic images, ‘Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare’, HCB said “it’s always luck.”  On the basis of my own experience with this assignment I would tend to agree, at least in part.  Each of the pictures in this final set are the result of chance; the chance coming together of the various elements of the composition to create something with visual interest.  That said, despite the element of chance – I could not control the coming together of those elements – they are all the result of a decision to shoot in a particular place, in a particular manner, with the hope that something of the sort would be the outcome.  They are all the result of looking, seeing potential in a given location, and seeing the potential offered by the fleeting conjunction of a number of elements to create a picture.  With the possible exception of the last of the final six, each picture was taken with a deliberate choice of framing by a building or buildings around the chosen scene.  In that last picture the subject is also framed by the structure in the background but that was more by luck than judgment.  In the cases though of the two men ascending the steps in the rain I could see there was the potential for something interesting although I was not at all sure what it might be until I caught the image that I have chosen.  In the case of the man in front of the narrow gap between two buildings I was actively hoping to capture something like this being aware of the potential of the site and influenced, as I have mentioned previously, by the work of Matt Black.

Although I do not fully buy into HCB’s ideas about the golden section, a sense of geometry or of arrangement of the elements of the subject are what appeal to me in these images.  Although taken across the three shoots at different times and locations what these final pictures have in common is an element of framing of the subject by the built environment and a certain symmetry, or otherwise to some extent a geometrical arrangement of the subject(s).  It is this arrangement of the elements that relates these pictures to the concept as explained by HCB.

I have commented briefly on each of these photos in the earlier posts on this Assignment, with the exception of the third one above.  What appealed here was the fact that for a fraction of a second all four subjects were in line and the man on the left who had until then been looking out into the street, looked back through the archway towards me, contesting with he other figures whose faces cannot be seen.

I have, I must admit, added to a sense of coherence by choosing to print all of this set in black and white.  There are a number of reasons for this choice that are relevant.  One is, simply, that it does help with a sense of coherence.  Another is that in none of the chosen photos is colour really that important.  Colour does not add anything of substance to the composition of any of these pictures.  It does in some of the pictures I took – I would dearly have liked to put together a set based the “colourful dining” image I posted in Assignment three The Decisive Moment Part 1 which remains one of my favourite individual images – but I am not happy that there are enough  photos that would have the right sense of coherence.

It has perhaps become a cliche but nevertheless I also feel that black and white is the appropriate medium for ‘street photography’ and the decisive moment.  HCB’s own work was monochrome and eschewing colour feels like an appropriate homage to him.  I am also influenced in this choice by a number of other photographers that I particularly admire who also happened to shoot almost exclusively in monochrome and whose work might be regarded as having something to say about the decisive moment, without necessarily being explicitly linked in any way to HCB’S work.  To name just a few I would cite Walker Evans and some of the pictures in the first half of American Photographs, Robert Frank in The Americans, Lee Friedlander’s street photography, and much of Vivian Maier.  Just about everything by Robert Capa! Josef Koudelka  during the invasion of Prague. Photos do not necessarily have to be monochrome in order to say something of the decisive moment as William Eggleston’s work amply demonstrates but, such is the strength and power of the cliche that black and white just feels right.

It is purely coincidental that a number of these American photographers are mentioned in the article by Zouhair Ghazzal referred to in the course material and which I have only just now revisited having written the paragraph above.   Their work perhaps goes some way to reinforce the view, expressed in my earlier post on where I stand on the concept, Part 3 The decisive moment – where do I stand?  that it has perhaps been stretched too far beyond being a description of the particular way that HCB worked.  I have to confess I do not find Ghazzal’s essay very useful or enlightening.

Evans, W, (2016).  American Photographs.  New York:  The Museum of Modern Art

Frank, R, (2016).  The Americans,  Göttingen: Steidl.

Koudelka, J (2008).  Invasion Prague 68.  London: Thames & Hudson

Whelan, R & Capa, C (eds) (1985).  Robert Capa: Photographs. London: Faber & Faber


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