Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Decisive Moment

I was reading a write up on Documentary Photography by John Marz ... and read a few paragraphs on Henry Cartier Bresson [HCB], that really struck a cord with me ... HCB is by far my favourite photographer ... Not only do I love his images, but also admire his ideas on photography and his most unassuming nature. Anyways ... I found a few paragraphs very very interesing ... So here's an excerpt from an article by John Marz ... "What's Documentary about photography", click here ...

EXCERPT ...
Henri Cartier-Bresson is the photojournalist who most readily embodies the classical approach. He concisely defined his pivotal concept of “the decisive moment”
“To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression” [Cartier-Bresson 1999].

The “decisive moment” is essentially a metaphor for hunting, the search for that confluence of content and form that the photographer must discover and be able to catch in an instant ...
“I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to ‘trap’ life -- to preserve life in the act of living. I craved to seize, in the confines of one single photograph, the whole essence of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.”

Cartier-Bresson has been explicitly critical of directed photography:
“The fabricated photograph, or set-up, does not interest me…. There are those who make photographs that have been composed beforehand, and there are those who discover the image and capture it” . [Cartier-Bresson 1991].
Insisting that he “takes” rather than “makes” photographs, his very unobtrusiveness enables him to sneak up upon “Things-As-They-Are,” and capture the reality that he believes is far richer than imagination.

Cartier-Bresson’s respect for and interest in capturing the irreducible variations produced in the real world reflect the influence that Surrealism had over him. In speaking of Surrealism, this photojournalist is careful to insist that he was attracted to its ideas, above all ... “the role of spontaneous expression, of intuition, and especially the attitude of revolt,” ... and he distances himself from its esthetics [Cartier-Bresson 1992].

However, despite Cartier-Bresson’s rejection of Surrealist photography, his own strategy is in fact quite in keeping with the importance of the “found object” in Dada and Surrealism, for example, the urinal that Marcel Duchamp entered in a 1917 exhibit under the title of Fountain. A slice of ordinary life is picked almost at random, and acquires a new meaning by its recontextualization through the strategy of dépaysement, a well-known tactic of Surrealists that means literally to be taken out of one’s native land; hence the ordinary, torn out of a familiar context and placed in a foreign situation, which enables it to be seen in a new way.

The surreality of Cartier-Bresson’s photography is unrelated to the carefully orchestrated imagery; instead, it is expressed in the capacity to uncover facets of everyday being that go unnoticed until the photographer reveals them through a process of intuition, and a mechanical reproduction akin to automatic writing. Hunting in the street for juxtapositions whose ironic contrasts would surprise people and make them see the world with new eyes, Cartier-Bresson carried forward the Surrealist project by linking it to the photojournalist ideal of the press photographer as a predatory animal lying in wait with a small 35mm camera to capture its prey: the real/surreal, the ordinary/fantastic surprises offered by world in its infinite variety.

PERSONAL NOTE:
# I just loved the metaphor here ... of comparing the idea of "decisive moment" with that of hunting, being on a prowl, to pounce and trap life, to preserve life in the act-of-living.

# The concept of representative photo where "one single photograph, the whole essence of some situation"... [Something I should strive to achieve]

# Another line that hit me was ... "slice of ordinary life is picked almost at random, and acquires a new meaning by its recontextualization through the strategy of dépaysement" ...
Well I had to look up for the word ... "dépaysement" ... It means to "decountrify oneself" ... is defined as the experience of re-seeing. "One leaves one's own culture to face something unfamiliar, and upon returning home it has become strange -and can be seen with fresh eyes" ... [Something I've come across in surrealist paintings ... AND also ... a concept I am very familiar with]

I loved both the ideas [1] The decisive moment [hunting, being on prowl, to trap life] .... and ... [2]encapsulating events in a single representative image ... and [3] Re-seeing with fresh eyes ...

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