Assignment 3 – first thoughts (rambles?)

Submit a set of between six and eight high-quality photographic prints on the theme of the ‘decisive 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. … 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.

This is going to be the most challenging assignment to date, mainly because ‘the decisive moment’ is a slippery concept that we all define in our own way. My view from a previous posting is that it is a circular concept: the decisive moment is the moment I decide to press the button, for whatever reason. Ideally, it is because I have found a composition that I like in the viewfinder. Therefore, I am not convinced that there is a ‘theme of the decisive moment’.

Still, ‘there are no right or wrong answers in a visual arts course’, so I have some licence so long as the result is defensible. My first thoughts:

  • I want to avoid ‘street photography’ because (a) the link between ‘street’ and ‘decisive moment’ is a bit too clichéd and (b) I’m not particularly good at it.
  • The image elements have to be in motion, or at least changing, in order for a decisive moment to emerge.
  • I need an element of control or predictability because I have to produce a linked set rather than a group of random one-offs.

My first opportunity and attempt will come this weekend when I will be officiating at a sailing regatta, from the committee boat, which will give me a theme, movement and developing situations.

I have looked at many of the photographers referenced in Part 3 (there are not many in Project 3 alone) as I have worked through the exercises. My thumbnail reactions are:

  • Eadweard Muybridge: good analysis of movement but a basically mechanical/automated approach to exposure. Can any of his moments be considered ‘decisive’ if the shutter was activated by tripwire rather than by hand?
  • Harold Edgerton: single high-speed images show normally-invisible ‘decisive moments’ but still mechanically triggered (or incredibly lucky)
  • Eyoalha Baker: ‘Jump for joy’ images are ‘peak of the action’ rather than decisive moments
  • Jeff Wall: staged reproductions of ‘decisive moments’, which could be said to be cheating.
  • Robert Capa: war and street photographer. Decisive moments and not afraid of a bit of unavoidable blur. Panning, as in the Barcelona air-raid image, is worth considering to simplify backgrounds.
  • Hiroshi Sugimoto: long exposures smudge any suggestion of ‘decisive moment’
  • Michael Wesley: ultra-long exposures, avoiding the decisive moment altogether
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson: forever linked with the phrase ‘decisive moment’ by a lazy translator. Skilled at finding formal compositions in messy situations.
  • Paul Graham: Nothing here for me. Randomness presented as something meaningful.

My inspirations are likely to come from photojournalists such as HCB and Capa, or from sports photographers.

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