Assignment 3 REWORKED and tutor´s feedback

Overall, the feedback on Assignment 3 was very positive. I am happy and relieved to see I have managed to express my understanding of the Decisive Moment and that my work is seen as creative and innovative.

Here there is a link to my tutor´s feedback and the reworked images below:

SilviaRuizCamara516865-AS03

I have been asked to reshoot three of the images so the frame would not be so tight (Images 2, 4 and 5), also having both Henri Cartier-Bresson and Francesca Woodman in mind. Considering the space available for shooting this was an issue, as for two of the images I did not have enough room to move the camera back or the background would become distractive if shooting with a wider focal length. I also had concerns about how the final series would look if half of the images turned to be too different from the original photographs I tried to emulate and how this would be perceived by the viewer without access to the notes and process. My perception at this point was that my tutor wanted me to take this assignment a step forward and so I felt this was also necessary, specially if a new aesthetic approach was to be introduced.

Therefore, I resolved to reshoot all the images, opening the scene and thinking of the relationship between the subject and the frame as shown through Francesca Woodman´s work (as my tutor pointed out on verbal feedback). Still, my idea was to keep distinctive elements from the first submission on each image to provide not just a sense of continuity but also contributing to the overall composition. As in the first attempt, I kept an eye on geometry and the balance between black and white areas.

To start with, I thought of Woodman´s indoor photographs so partially emptied a room and used it as a stage for all the images. It is a very small room so creating a set of different images was an exciting challenge.

Generally, I enjoyed the freedom of creating my own photographs rather than reproducing others´in a literal way. I drew a quick sketch of how the new scenes could be approached and composed but I looked mainly at the original images for inspiration while shooting.

Escanear 55

Overall, I find the new set of images more successful as they don’t only reflect my thoughts on the Decisive Moment but also feel more like my own work. Reworking the assignment has also teach me to look further, even when an image can be considered done there is always room for development or at least to ask yourself the question “could have I done it differently?” and explore all possibilities.

These are the reworked images, compared with the ones submitted earlier, contact sheets and exif data:

Image 1

photo1 diptic

Although this was the easiest image to emulate at first, it has been the most difficult to reshoot. Initially, I wanted to keep the element of the book and the movement of the pages. This was the result:

Hoja de contacto-003

Somehow I thought the composition and approach were weak and it did not tell anything new that would justify a reshoot. Analyzing the elements on it I realized the book was not relevant; it didn’t add to the composition. The original title of Henri Cartier-Bresson “Martine´s legs” gave me the clue to change the focus onto the legs so my aim here was to find a way to create and interesting composition introducing movement in a different way. I played with the idea of taking my shoe off and realized long exposure allowed me to have one shoe on and off in the same frame, so I shot until I was happy with the effect and the position of the elements on the image. This is probably the image that most reminded me of Francesca Woodman. It is the last I shot and I feel I was very much involved with the creative process here, not thinking too much on the outcome but enjoying the process instead.

a3_photo1

ISO: 100, 8″, f/22, 17mm.

Hoja de contacto-001

[Image selected: 8157]

 

Image 2

photo2 diptic

This is one of the images that needed reshooting. I kept the element of the cup to help me come up with a movement that would feel natural and coherent. It was the first image to be reworked so I was not completely sure about what I wanted to achieve visually, so tried different poses taking the original pose as a starting point.

The elements on the background (armchair and light stand with soft-box) are accidental as that is the original place they have in that particular room. I wanted to maintain a homey feeling, thinking of Henri Cartier-Bresson´s wife relaxing on their coach. I chose that corner as the armchair is a small version of the coach I used on the original submission. The light added some interest and as Martine was a photographer herself, it is a nice element to keep in what pretends to represent a photograph taken at home.

The movement is fluid and so it is the general feel of the image. Again, the freedom of composing my own way helped me to achieve the shot and gave me also more confidence since I could explore different possibilities.

a3_photo2

ISO: 100, 4″, f/22, 29mm.

Hoja de contacto-001Hoja de contacto-002

[Image selected: 8056]

 

Image 3

photo3 diptic

Funeral of a Kabuki actor was one of the hardest images to emulate. For this second attempt, I thought of simplifying the scene to a minimum while keeping a fair amount of movement. The result seems a bit inconclusive and open to interpretation on what this moment is about.

The backdrop and stand have two purposes: firstly, I wanted a black background to match the original and secondly, both elements resemble the flag that divides the original image by Henri Cartier-Bresson, which was missing on my first approach. I looked for contrast so kept my clothes white, which remind me of the handkerchiefs on the left image and also helps introducing a bigger sense of movement.

a3_photo3

ISO: 100, 6″, f/22, 24mm

Hoja de contacto-001Hoja de contacto-002

[Image selected: 8117]

 

Image 4

photo4 diptic

This was my favourite image from the original submission so it hurt a bit when I knew I was to reshoot it.

I put the camera outside the room so the door frame and part of the wall and a table appear on the left side of the image. This locates the subject and adds some additional framing; I think it makes the image more interesting, as if someone would be spying from outside the scene. Initially, I shot on the same dark suit as on the picture of the left but I wanted to catch the light from the window to create lighter areas. The element of the box was discarded as again, it wasn’t relevant. I see this new image as the one that connects Image 1 and Image 6.

a3_photo4

ISO: 100, 6″, f/22, 21mm

Hoja de contacto-001

[Selected image: 8127]

 

Image 5

photo5 diptic

The only elements I kept from the first attempt here are the position of the arms and the look into the camera. This was another favourite that needed to be reshot. I still prefer the first version but not within the new series. However, I feel this image is more personal.

It is a very simple photograph but I believe effective. I looked for triangles in the composition to match the position of the arms and the lines of the wall and skirting board to direct the eyes into the subject. The idea of the Decisive Moment comes to me here as I image the scene as a portrait (rather than a self-portrait). I picture the photographer´s approach to his or her sitter: when to shoot? Which moment would represent better the subject? Is it about the pose or about the mood of the sitter? Or is it about the overall feeling of the image (composition, expression, contrast, theme…?).

a3_photo5

ISO: 100, 6″, f/32, 32mm.

Hoja de contacto-001

[Selected image: 8084]

 

Image 6

photo6 diptic.jpg

I did not know hot to reinterpret this photograph until I started shooting. Keeping the shapes created by the position of arms and legs was a must so I focused on that. To connect both before and after versions, I brought the two black chairs into the scene and experimented from there.

I see lots of elements of duality in this photograph. The two chairs, two people, two bits of curtain. The window slightly open, letting fresh air come in and the subject suffocating with the curtain around the head. It could be interesting to know what others think about this. It was not something intentional but I can see some concept there when looking at the image.

As a quirky detail, my phone sits on the window sill with the original images opened on the screen, as a little reference/secret. I see this image as a continuation of Image 5 on the series.

a3_photo6.jpg

ISO: 100, 10″, f/22, 17mm.

Hoja de contacto-001

[Selected image: 8144]


 

As part of the changes suggested by my tutor, I had to come up with a title for the series that would define “the moment”. As I mentioned on my first impressions blog post, it was my intention to “fragment” the Decisive Moment, yet my tutor does not see the series as Fragmented or Indecisive Moments, but more like “Tentative Moments”.

I have been looking for a word that would define define my approach to the Decisive Moment. I considered how long exposures and movement have resulted in a series that record action by freezing every stage of it. Each of these images tells a story by offering a wider view of the moment: showing how it started, how it finished and what happened in between, even though the other of these stages is subjective. It is not possible to state how long the action lasted by only looking at the images. I therefore thought a good name for these photographs would be “Indefinite Moments“.

[Indefinite: lasting for an unknown length of time.]

I have also come up with the decision of changing the order of the images, taking into account the new connections I perceive between them. This would be the “Indefinite Moment” sequence:

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Assignment 3: Reflection.

Check your work against assessment criteria for this course before you send it to your tutor. Make some notes in your learning log about how well you believe your work meets each criterion.

Demonstration of technical and visual skills

The work presented has a strong compositional drive and the approach taken on the brief has an implied interest in producing a visual response in the viewer. The technique used (low shutter speed) has been explored during Part 3 through research of other artists and on the exercises, and it is a crucial element for the production of the final images. Observation prior to shooting has been essential, as the work emulates Henri Cartier-Bresson´s images to decompose the Decisive Moment.

Quality of outcome

The final images and conclusion show a broad understanding on the theory of the Decisive Moment and I have worked my way towards exploring the term as I was creating more images, reflecting widely on the purpose of each of them and their aim within the assignment.

Overall, I am satisfied with the outcome and how it communicates my idea of the Decisive Moment.

Demonstration of creativity

Having to change the initial plan of shooting with a model and turning the project into a self-portraiture series has pushed me to find the way to communicate my ideas in a creative manner while dealing with many difficulties in achieving the shot I wanted. Somehow, I feel that these images are a continuation of what I started in Assignment 2 (experimenting with movement and portrait) which it´s something that really intrigues me and would like to continue exploring in different ways. I have perceived a big change in how I approach photography since I started working on research before and during projects while also shooting subjects that I like. My aim is to develop my own voice as I progress through the module by merging my interests, new knowledge and influences. I think these are early days still and I have a long way to go yet in finding my voice but I can already see all the benefits this course is bringing to my thinking process.

Context

Since I had the last tutor feedback chat and read through the brief of Assignment 3, the thought of producing a good set of images while reflecting on the Decisive Moment has obsessed me a little. The aim was to challenge the theory but how? I spent a lot of time asking myself about its meaning and wondering what would work and how it could be somehow “fragmented”.

After finishing my work I am still a little concerned about how my reflection on the Decisive Moment would be understood as my writing skills are not so good and the meaning can be easily misinterpreted because of my poor grammar. However, I know my concepts and thinking are clear and I have reflected widely on the matter, specially through observation.

Perhaps I should work more on my Learning Log as I do research many artists that are not mentioned on the course materials, and find the time to include them on the blog. I have been considering scanning some pages of the many notebooks/sketchbooks where I normally write/reflect on. I do need paper and ink to organize my ideas but these notes are often messy, illegible and quite random so I feel a bit concerned about showing them. However, I think it could enhance my learning experience if I would compromise and include them on my log as this would encourage me to keep my annotations tidier.

This, together with finding someone to read proof my entries, could definitely help my work look more professional and better organized.


 

Strengths and weaknesses

Generally and reading through the first impressions on the brief I posted earlier, I have managed to overcome all foreseeable problems that I expected facing. The series works well and the prints follow a clear theme. I decided to keep the overall look neat by shooting black and white, horizontal images and focus in portraiture.

Despite this, I perceive a difference between the first three images and the three following. As I was progressing on the series and reflecting on the Decisive Moment, my approach was evolving. Like this, I feel the first three images are less meaningful to me while the concept was richer towards the end. This could be seen as something that did not work so well, however, I am happy I can identify it and judge my work in this way. It makes me aware that the deeper the understanding/experimentation on a subject, the better results can be obtained.

How could I develop this further in the future

It could be interesting observing the Decisive Moment through Street Photography. Trying to stage Henri Cartier-Bresson´s images was helpful for my practice even though I did not choose to replicate those photographs of him that are more immediately connected to the Decisive Moment. I consider Street Photography a difficult discipline as I like control and I tend to choose predictable subjects to work with so this would challenge me in many ways.

 

Assingment 3: The Decisive Moment. Final Images and Conclusion.

[Contact sheets and development of the assignment can be found here]

 


 

Here there are the six final images for Assignment 3 (with a little description of each shot) and a final conclusion about the project.

Image 1

foto1_web

Shutter speed: 3.2″ (just enough to catch an interesting movement on the book pages)

Aperture: f/29

ISO: 100

Focal length: 21mm


I chose to begin with this image of Martine Franck´s legs as I thought it would be the easiest to get started and achieve a successful composition. It is also an image where the concept of the Decisive Moment is clear in relation with the geometry and not so much with action, as it depicts a moment of relaxation where there is not much happening. The composition is not affected by the movement of the pages on the book as the main lines are drawn by the position of the legs and the shapes created on the background.

 

Image 2

foto2_web

Shutter speed: 3.2″

Aperture: f/10

ISO: 100

Focal length: 26mm


This image seems like the continuation of the previous one despite the years that separate the originals. It is another relaxed moment where body positioning and the horizontal lines of the background create a well balanced, informal portrait. I do feel more attracted to Cartier-Bresson´s portraits than to his street photography, and I have found many images that I did not see before while doing my research for the project, mainly of family and friends (most of them artists), and there is a great feeling of complicity, specially in the ones of his wife, Martine Franck.

In this image, I have tried to recreate the movement that I feel could have happened in that moment, so she drinks from her cup while staring at something, probably aware but not really concerned about the camera. Any of these little moments caught here with the long exposure would, in my opinion, have made a Decisive Moment. It gives me the impression that Cartier-Bresson saw the shot while observing his wife and felt the urge to frame it.

 

Image 3

foto3_web

Shutter speed: 6″

Aperture: f/11

ISO: 100

Focal length: 32mm


This photograph is composed from two different shots since it was very complicated to expose myself correctly in five different positions. I used a black backdrop and planed the movements to achieve a similar composition. I tried to focus on the white areas of the original image (faces, handkerchief, arms) and their proportions within the frame. Even though the white belt and the flag with the inscription are missing, I think the essence of the original image is there. With five (possibly more) people moving in front of him, there is no way Henri Cartier-Bresson could have predict how the final image would look like. He could only observe the scene and guess when to shoot.

I set my shutter speed to 6 seconds as the first part of the image required three movements and like this, I could count 2 seconds for each position and give enough exposure time to record myself neatly at each stage. As it can be noted on the contact sheets, there was a moment when the available light dropped and the camera calculated a lower aperture with a darker image as a result. I did not like the way the light turned out then, so I changed to manual mode and used the settings from the beginning and keeping the 6 seconds exposure. I kept the same settings for the second image to can merge both images without major adjustments.

 

Foto 4

tofo4_300_small

Shutter speed: 4″

Aperture: f/25

ISO: 100

Focal length: 24mm


I have chosen this image because I like Cartier-Bresson´s photographs where people are framed tightly. I tried to keep the lines and mood of the original, despite being shot indoors and from a slightly higher viewpoint. I could not use the shutter release cable so I set up a 10 seconds delay instead. It took a while to find the correct composition. Working on this image made me wonder what Cartier-Bresson captured here: wether the man was aware of his presence and covered his face to not be seen or if he was simply resting and protecting his eyes from the sun. It represents another moment where observation and body positioning created the Decisive Moment.

 

Image 5

foto5_web

Shutter speed: 6″

Aperture: f/18

ISO: 100

Focal length: 44mm


I had my doubts when selecting the final photograph from this sequence. There is another shot that I think replicates better the composition of the original image but I feel that the one above reflects better how I imagine that moment happened. I imagine Martine Franck looking at the camera at some point while enjoying a quiet moment at home. This was my approach in representing the movement (and hence the moment) here: I gave myself 6 seconds during which, using the position from the original image as a starting point, I would just act “normal”. So, I was experimenting with moving my eyes across the scene through the window on my right, turning my head to the camera and accommodating myself on the bed. I wanted to capture what I imagined she would have been doing.

The image I think has a better composition is the following:

IMG_7220_peke

I am still wondering if I should take the second option, as it seems to match better with the rest of the images on the serie. However, I find this shot feels more posed and less natural, which crashes with my idea of how the Decisive Moment is represented here. On the other hand, the first is maybe the one image of the project that will recreate an “Indecisive Moment” by showing how a slight change when composing an image (and therefore, a change in the overall shapes and geometry of the photograph) can potentially make the photographer “miss” that Decisive Moment.

At this point of the Assignment, I notice that the process of planning, creating and selecting the right image is getting more complex as I dig into the concepts and compare the different situations in which the original photographs were taken.

I have been wondering about the idea of what exactly makes the Decisive Moment. It seems to me that Henri Cartier-Bresson was exclusively thinking of the aesthetic aspect of the image and its composition. However, when looking at his portraits there seems to be something else. Does the subject or the relationship between the subject and the photographer matter in the Decisive Moment? As he mentions on the documentary L´amour tout court in 2001, part of his technique when photographing other artists in their environment is to talk about anything so they relax and forget about the shooting that is about to happen. Was he entertaining his subjects in a way they would become another element of the image allowing him to compose the shot without much interference? Till what extent was it important for him to capture the real self of the subject? Was it all about making them unaware of his camera to give that sense of relaxation and normality and how does this relate to the Decisive Moment within his body of work?

 

Image 6

foto6_web

 

Shutter speed: 6″

Aperture: f/32

ISO: 100

Focal length: 31mm


This is not an image I have planned to replicate from the beginning but it caught my attention while searching for inspiration. Both women seem to pose for the camera but still their posture is very loose and natural and reminds me of classic paintings. Their limbs create a composition that I feel attracted to and I also liked the way their shoulder touch and the positioning of their hands.  They don´t look impressed by the presence of the camera, which tells me that the photographer was not intimidating them or the women did not see him as an intruder. The composition achieved here by Cartier-Bresson is sublime, with both girls describing opposing triangles (did Cartier-Bresson staged this or did he “see” it happening and captured “the moment“?) and their bodies framed tighlty so all the attention falls on them and not even the busy background distracts from them.

I have tried many options to get this image done. Initially I thought of using a 10 seconds exposure so I would have time to move from one chair to another, but the image was a bit overexposed. The clear background did not help much with this issue, so I dimmed the light with a curtain and tried shooting with 6 and 8 seconds shutter speeds instead, which worked better. I particularly like the messy background: the backdrop visibly hanging from the stand, the edges of it poking on both sides. Even though these elements don´t appear in the original, I would like to keep them as a point of interest. The image quality of some areas on this photograph reminds me of film (the legs and arms of the figure on the left). Unfortunately, I could not replicate the direction of the lights from Cartier-Bresson´s image, as I had only one window on the left.


Conclusion

Exploring the Decisive Moment has made me reflect on what I learnt through the previous course materials: the constant changes in light, the importance of the viewpoint and perspective, the frame, the movement that can be perceived in a scene by close observation, the way our eye reads a photograph… All these factors are affecting the composition (shadows sharpen or disappear creating shapes or defining them, a new element appears in the frame, our attention can jump from one subject/area to another with the smallest change). While trying to emulate the Decisive Moment through Henri Cartier-Bresson´s photographs, I found these concepts played a big part in the planning and execution process. That makes me think of the Decisive Moment as the moment when all these key factors converge at once capturing a precise scene that is aesthetically  perfect yet, there is still something else to it that I can´t define. It is rather the subject or the particular instant that is caught on camera that makes every element work together. As Gerry Badger comments on the Decisive Moment, it can be better understood as “the moment when form and content come together to produce an image in which the formal, emotional, poetic and intellectual elements have substance” (G. Badger, 2007)

On the other hand, and specially looking at my final images, I would say that one same scenario could provide different moments that could be considered “decisive”: the only common element is that the main factors that make the photograph stay constant. Since time is recorded as movement and movement would potentially change the composition of the image, it can be said that the greatest the movement (or the length of time), the greatest the chance the Decisive Moment is missed if not shot as it happens.

In my opinion, the presence or absence of action affects the Decisive Moment from behind the camera. Since the only person who sees the shot from that specific point of view at that specific time is the photographer himself, the fact of missing the moment can only be attributed to the capacity of the photographer to observe and identify when to shoot. Failure in identifying “the moment” would not make him miss the shot as he never observed it so, did it ever happen? This makes me think of other two factors that are equally important in the Decisive Moment: the ability of the photographer to look and the luck of being in the right moment in the right place. Just as Henri Cartier-Bresson said, it is about learning how to look and being receptive.

I had the initial purpose of challenging the Decisive Moment through presenting lengthy exposures with subjects in movement, thinking that this could lead me to prove Cartier-Bresson´s vision wrong or at least not so true for every type of shot. It happens that the more I have been reflecting on the Decisive Moment, the more I believe that he was right. The difference here is that I can see now the concept with different eyes: now I understand it better. “I look, I look. It´s and obsession” (Henri Cartier-Bresson, 2001). He knew how much he could miss by not looking.

 

 


References

Badger, G. (2013). The genius of photography. London: Quadrille, p.104.

‘L’amour du court’ parts 1-5, 2001 YouTube video, added by Rangefindergeneral [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL707C8F898605E0BF(Accessed 08 September 2017).

Assingment 3: The Decisive Moment. Development and contact sheets.

[First impressions on the brief can be found here]


 

The aim on this series is to explore the idea of the Decisive Moment through Henri Cartier-Bresson´s photographs. I asked myself:

  • How long does a moment last?
  • Can the Decisive Moment be staged and still be as successful?
  • What chances a photographer has to capture the Decisive Moment?

 

How:

  1. Bringing movement into a selection of images taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson: recreating “the moment”.
  2. Looking to replicate what makes a photograph for Cartier-Bresson: geometry and careful composition.

On my previous assignment feedback, my tutor encourage me to try to emulate photographs that I feel attracted to so I am bringing this into my Decisive Moment project. It is something that has made me more aware of the importance of the viewpoint in terms of creating a better composition. It is amazing how an image can change only by changing the position of the camera slightly and this is something I might have overlooked in the past, focusing mainly on the frame when composing a shot.

 

Initial response to the brief and how my ideas developed

My original plan was finding a model who would like to pose for me and recreate HCB´s images in a very abstract way, giving all the attention to the composition and using long exposure to record movement. Since I could not find anyone willing to do this, I decided to shoot myself and emulate the photographs in a more literal way. I did not want to focus on “copying” every element from the originals. Instead, and taking into account that the final images would be converted to black and white, I focused on colour blocking. For this, I looked at the composition of each image and identified the main black, grey and white areas. I also looked at the position of the subjects and the lines created by their limbs and body, as well as background lines that would direct my eye through the image.

I printed some of the photographs I thought would work and identified the elements that, for me, make the Decisive Moment on each of them.

Later, I would discard some (I opted to keep all horizontal so the final series would look more cohesive and other images like “Mexico, 1934” was discarded as it already has movement on it). I have finally added other images as the project developed, as I was feeling there were other shots I would feel closer to my style/preference.

These are the scans of the initially planed images:

The decision of how to introduce movement on each image was taken individually. I would imagine the situation of each shot and guess how subjects would be doing at that moment, so the movement would be naturally integrated. In the images with more than one subject, the movement from one position to another tries to depict the sequence with the “chances” of capturing moving groups of people within the frame and pretend to reflect on the multiple possibilities one moment can represent for the photographer.

All images are taken indoors (mainly in my living room) using elements readily available. I have particularly enjoyed the process of planning which objects/garments would work best for each image as well as looking for the angles/areas of the room that would work best each time. I have also used available light overall.

Regardless of myself being the sitter for the series, I do not see the final images as self portraits. This is something I have been thinking about that reminds me of what Francesca Woodman said about her own work and the reason why she was using self-portraiture: she was available. I feel her images also influenced my series in this way and also with the use of movement, which is something I have been exploring recently in my photography and still see so much potential for experimentation there.

 

Technical approach

Each image been shot differently however, always prioritizing my need of slow shutter speed to record movement. Using shutter priority mode, I varied the length of the exposure according to the effect needed and the amount of time required to replicate the movement myself.

Rather than sticking to a 35mm focal length (which would have made sense while emulating Cartier-Bresson´s images), I varied it according to the space available for composing the image so this number it is not really relevant. There are a couple of images I noted to be shot with a wide angle but I finally did not select them for shooting.

I used my camera mounted on a tripod with a 17-50mm lens and shutter release cable for some of the images. Others are taken with a 2 or 10 seconds delay, depending on my pose/distance from the camera.

 

Selection of images to replicate in movement

After lots of changes, these are the final images I picked from Henri Cartier-Bresson:

Image 1: Martine´s legs, 1967

Image 2: Martine Franck, 1975

Image 3: Funeral of a kabuki actor, Tokyo, 1965

Image 4: Spain, 1933

Image 5: Martine Franck, 1985

Image 6: Prostitutes, Alicante, Spain, 1933

 

First images: The contact sheets

This has happened to be quite a long project since my initial plan was to shoot all 6 images in one day and it has turned to be a weeks worth of work. Some of the shots were easy but most were tiring and hard to get right. These are the contact sheets:

Image 1 (Selected image IMG_7041)

Hoja de contacto-001

 

Image 2 (Selected image IMG_7052)

Hoja de contacto-001

Image 3 (Selected image IMG_7092+IMG_7099)

Image 4 (Selected image IMG_7144)

Image 5 (Selected image IMG_ 7205 or IMG_7220)

 

Image 6 (Selected image IMG_7247)

 

 


Resources

Cartier-Bresson, H. and Brenson, M. (2006). Henri Cartier-Bresson. London: Thames & Hudson.

Magnum Photos. (2017). Henri Cartier-Bresson • Photographer Profile • Magnum Photos. [online] Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/henri-cartier-bresson/ [Accessed 8 Sep. 2017].

 

Assignment 3: The Decisive Moment. First impressions.

Brief:

1. Prints

Send a set of between six and eight high-quality photographic prints on the theme of the “decisive moment” to your tutor. 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. 

2. Assignment notes

Submit assignment notes of between 500 and 1000 words with your series. Introduce your subject and describe your “process” – your way of working. Then briefly state how you think each image relates to the concept of the decisive moment. This will be a personal response as there are no right or wrong answers in a visual arts course. You´ll find it useful to explore the photographers and works referenced in Project 3, if you haven’t already done so. Don’t forget to use Harvard referencing.

Post your prints, no larger than A4 to your tutor with your assignment notes.

 

Reflection

Check your work against assessment criteria for this course before you send it to your tutor. Make some notes in your learning log about how well you believe your work meets each criterion.


 

First impressions

From the moment I had the feedback for Assignment 2 with my tutor I was already convinced that my plan for this third assignment would be playing with the idea of the “Indecisive moment“. However, I have been worrying about finding my own interpretation of the brief so much (which has been changing as my research and reading progressed along Part 3) that I came across multiple ideas that would provide a good response and rebate the “Decisive Moment“.

Initially, I thought of working with long exposures and composing images that would be geometrically attractive without being able to preview what the outcome would be till the shoot was taken. I thought of asking permission to use a tripod in the hall of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, which would provide a modern architectural setting with great ambient light and lots of people passing by. I though of composing each shot according to the direction of the lines on walls, floors and ceilings, set a low shutter speed and let the visitors give me the rest. This way, I would not be able to predict the results, and also the “Decisive Moment” Henri Cartier-Bresson refers to would be compose not only from one moment but from dozens of moments (the ones from people passing and their trail recorder on camera). At the same time, I thought this would emulate somehow Cartier-Bresson´s “Sifnos, Greece, 1961” photograph, as he explains in this video about the “Decisive Moment” that he composed the image first and then “waited for someone to pass” (Henri Cartier-Bresson, n.d.). This is something that shocked me when researching his theory on the decisive moment, as it contradicts what he says later in the documentary of L´amour du court, 2001 about the relationship between the elements on a picture being “a matter of chance” (Henri Cartier-Bresson, 2001). He recognizes staging this shot, even though he could not foresee who would pass but it leaves a door open in terms of how decisive a moment is if it can be either pre-calculated or staged, as I think many street photography images are taken nowadays which try to emulate Cartier- Bresson´s aesthetics.

These thoughts took me to the next idea, which was mounting my camera on a tripod in a quiet location and wait for a single person to pass. I would record a sequence of shots and analyze which one if any could be considered as “decisive”. I did not find this idea very exciting though.

The third idea came from the statement “What matters is to look”, so I asked myself “what if I don’t look?” Is it possible to achieve an aesthetically pleasing image without even looking while shooting?”. I had to options here:

  • go out and shoot from the hip.
  • find a subject that would be so unpredictable that I could not know how or in which direction it would move.

During the exercises on Part 3 while exploring shutter speeds, I also asked myself “how long is a moment in time?” I though of empty, abandoned places, where nothing happens, where time stretches and one moment is the same as the next. I thought of nature, where I always find inspiration and where changes occurred over long periods of time. Natural rock erosion that it can not be perceived unless working with really long exposures that I wonder if even Michael Wesely could capture.

I also tried other routes that would not try to show indecisive moments but would represent that that moment is gone. There has been an incident at work when a car crashed with a wall in the carpark and the site is cordoned off. A fence is guarding the whole with the fallen bricks and I thought this could be a great interpretation of a decisive moment that was missed. A nearby block of flats caught fire before that happened and the damage is still visible, so that would have been my second image but I abandoned the idea as I did not want the assignment to be based in negative events.

While doing my research on the artists mentioned on Part 3, I found the work of Fréderic Fontenoy and his series “Metamorphosis” (1988) by pure accident. It is a series of self-portraits in which the artist, nude and out in the wild, plays with low shutter speeds and body distortion.

I found this series beautiful in many ways. It made me question how long the photographer tried to get the right image in this case. Did he tried to move faster first, then slower? Did he tried different combinations of body movement or sticked to one and change the settings? Was it all improvised or was there a particular connection between the movement and the environment? I could also see the resemblance to the indecisive moment I wanted to portray but, at the same time, it represents a moment itself: the moment when the photographer danced in front of his camera. And it is recorder from the beginning till the end, just as Hiroshi Sugimoto records the movies in his series “Theatres”.

I took the decision of exploring Fontenoy´s technique and to question the decisiveness of a moment, the length of it and the degree of control the photographer can have in capturing it. I would do this through staged representations of a number of “Decisive Moments” (Henri Cartier Bresson´s selected images) where the subject emulating the composition will need to be in constant but controlled/timed movement in order to achieve the results. The final images should recreate the originals in the way of giving a sense of movement and passing of time. It will also explore the chances a photographer has to find a decisive moment within a timed sequence and the relationship of the subject and the frame during that particular shot.

Problems I may encounter:

  • finding a model/subject to perform as required.
  • Achieving the adequate resemblance to the original images without being too obvious or too far from the concept and composition.
  • Controlling time of exposure and movement of the subject to achieve satisfactory results.
  • Deciding whether or not the selection of the original images should follow certain theme or characteristic (all horizontal or vertical; all portraits or a mix of different disciplines)
  • Achieving enough clarity on the movement that not only represents the desired scene but also will make a good printed image that works individually and in the context of the series.

 

Henri Cartier-Bresson´s images I am considering working with

 


Resources

Cartier-Bresson, H. and Brenson, M. (2006). Henri Cartier-Bresson. London: Thames & Hudson.

Fredericfontenoy.com. (2017). Metamorphose. [online] Available at: http://www.fredericfontenoy.com/metamorphosis.html [Accessed 8 Sep. 2017].

Magnum Photos. (2017). Henri Cartier-Bresson • Photographer Profile • Magnum Photos. [online] Available at: https://www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/henri-cartier-bresson/ [Accessed 8 Sep. 2017].

YouTube. (2017). HENRI CARTIER BRESSON – The Decisive Moment 1973_2007. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14ih3WgeOLs [Accessed 8 Sep. 2017].