[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.
Shutter speed: 3.2″ (just enough to catch an interesting movement on the book pages)
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.
Shutter speed: 3.2″
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.
Shutter speed: 6″
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.
Shutter speed: 4″
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.
Shutter speed: 6″
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:
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?
Shutter speed: 6″
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.
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.
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).