Some thoughts on the ‘Decisive Moment’

One of the most famous photographers of the past 100 years is undoubtedly Henri Cartier-Bresson, largely known as one of the pioneers of street photography and also as one of the founders of the picture agency, Magnum Photos.

He is also largely credited as coining the idea of the ‘Decisive Moment‘ where there is a point where everything comes together to produce a perfectly balanced picture. I think there is a widely held misconception (certainly it was mine !) that Cartier-Bresson and others  (Robert Capa, Eve Arnold, Bruce Gilden etc) waited for that moment before taking the perfect picture.

So isn’t that the case ?

616Bhj-+qCL._SX409_BO1,204,203,200_Well I recently bought a book called Magnum Contact Sheets, a huge (and very heavy)  tome which reproduces contact sheets from some of the most famous photographers which feature some of the most iconic images. A very interesting read, showing how in many cases the photographer has built up to the best known image, after capturing a number of images of the scene developing in front of them. Or the ‘decisive moment’ has been skillfully chosen from the resulting contact sheets to present us with the iconic images we are familiar with.

With digital photography, it is so easy (and cheap!) to take countless images of the same or developing scene and this can be regarded as lazy photography. Why not wait till the image is just right ? With landscape photography, perhaps there is something to be said for this. But for one of my favorite types of work, that is performance, such as the recent Bradford on Avon Morris day, can there be anything wrong with taking countless images as the performance develops or unfolds, then choosing the ‘decisive moment‘ (if there is one) afterwards ?

So here is my ‘contact sheet’ from one of the performances. The ‘decisive moment‘ is a matter of personal choice probably :-).

Which would be yours ?




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