Self assessment and criticism is an area I find particularly difficult. This is probably not because I am over confident, but because I tend to be very negative about my own work. This makes it difficult to write down the thoughts and also difficult to be objective.
Assessment criteria points
Demonstration of technical and visual skills – Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills. (40%)
I think I produced reasonable images for this assignment. I found it hard to keep to the topic, and, because it was a specific idea, some of the images , especially those that didn’t make the final cut, had major flaws, such as depth of field or focus. I was concentrating on what was happening and didn’t always remember to think about the practical issues such as the best camera settings. It would have been helpful to think in advance about the best way to show them, for example, would it be best to have the whole image in focus, or better to just focus on the person taking the image and have the background (their subject) out of focus. I made a considered decision to only have the person on the side of the image and to show the background as a large part as I felt it made the concept more ‘real’.
Quality of outcome – Content, application of knowledge , presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas. (20%)
Having got the spark of an idea for this I feel I thought it through, weighing up the possibilities, and logically explaining my thought processes. This was easier to present on-line with the additional images that showed the progression of thoughts. Next time it might be better to add these images into the printed explanatory essay as will as the final chosen images. I feel that I communicated my concept in both the descriptive essay and the images.
Creativity — Imagination, experimentation, invention. (20%)
I experimented with several possibilities for this assignment before settling in the final one. I also experimented with colour versus monochrome. It’s is difficult to see how imagination comes into this – unless it is about imagining the concept in the first place. This was a ‘sideways’ take on the concept of the decisive moment – thinking about other peoples moment and trying to put myself into their place. It has made me think of several other pieces of work that would be interesting to do as a follow up including the work on selfies and possibly asking other people why they were interested in that place/photography at that time (also – what they did with their images ?post them on line,?print them or what. This would open up the possibility of contrasting their thoughts with mine.
Context – Reflection, research, critical thinking. (20%)
My research on this assignment was too limited. It was about the concept of selfies and how they were used – but then I moved away from this as an idea. I am sure there have been other studies on my eventual idea but I am not aware of them, and not sure how/where to access them.
Brief: A series of 6 – 8 photographic prints on the theme of the ‘decisive moment’, which may support the tradition or question the concept.
After thinking about the decisive moment at length, watching the film on Henri Cartier-Bresson and reading around the subject I spent some considerable time trying to decide how to approach this assignment.
I initially thought about following the concept directly and trying some ‘traditional’ street photography but decided against this, partly because I felt that I risked simply ‘copying’ many of the images already out in this domain, and partly because I felt that I would struggle to find a linking concept. I then thought about taking a series of images of animals and birds when they were at a ‘decisive ‘point, and did start to follow this idea with some fairly interesting (or at least amusing) images of animals in the park.
While taking these, I took an image, and realised that it was more about the person taking the photograph of the peacock than of the peacock itself, especially as it was not obliging by showing its fan. I felt this was an interesting idea as what I was doing was looking at what other people were finding to photograph – their ‘decisive moment’.
There has been a considerable of interest in people taking photographs recently, but this has been mainly about the incredible incidence of ‘selfies’ taken and posted on social media. A recent statistic quoted in Amateur Photographer suggested that 48% of all photographs taken by 18 to 30-year olds now are selfies (Amateur Photographer, 2017). I am not sure how that statistic was derived, but certainly, if you are watching people on the street self -portraiture appears to be the main subject, and there are clearly an enormous number of such images posted to social media.
In 2013 the Oxford Dictionaries chose ‘selfie’ as their Word of the Year. Oxford University Press then gathered a variety of scholarly reflections on this (OUP blog, 2013). In this article Lynn Schofield Clark from the University of Denver said, ‘Selfies like this are about awareness of our own self-awareness’, Karen Dill-Shackleford said ‘A recent trip to Stonehenge had me cringing as I watched visitors to the site posing for selfies in self-absorbed abandon beside the ancient monument. Did they feel that the intriguing thing about Stonehenge was their own presence there?’ and Robert Arkin said, ‘The selfie (an arm’s length close-up self-portrait) photograph is a way to control others’ images of us, to get out in front of their judgments, to put an image in their heads with purpose and spunk. Others’ judgments are no longer just their own creation, the selfie objectifies the self, influences others’ thoughts. And, since the selfie is one’s own creation, it also affords plausible deniability; it isn’t me, it’s just one ‘me’ that I created for you’.
Cindy Sherman has recently unlocked her Instagram account and shared several ‘selfies’ although these have a particular Sherman twist in that they are distorted. (Sherman, 2017) Farago comments ‘they also point to the gap between Ms. Sherman’s vital, unsettling practice of sideways self-portraiture and the narcissistic practice of selfie snapping’ (Farago, 2017). Clearly the whole field of taking selfies, while it has much in common with all self-portraiture, could be explored at length, both academically and practically, using a combination of my own ‘selfies’ and pictures of others taking images of themselves.
I thought about taking photographs of people taking ‘selfies’ and experimented with this, but decided not to explore this further for this assignment as it is possibly a study on the ‘indecisive’ moment rather than the decisive one when the number of selfies taken by any one person is considered. However, this would be an interesting concept to follow up in the future.
My next idea was to take relatively close-up images of the people taking photographs and pair them with images I took of the same subject immediately afterwards. I discarded this approach as the limited number of images asked for in this case would only have allowed for a maximum of four pairs, again this is an idea that it would be worth looking at in the future.
What was done.
For this series of images, I concentrated on photographs of people taking photographs, not of themselves, but of the world around them. There is a wide variety of situations shown as, although I had enough images in various locations to have concentrated on one of these, such as Kew Botanic Gardens or the Yorkshire Military Experience, I felt the overall theme was better served by diversity, although, the simple fact that I was also there, in that place and at that time, has limited the range to situations that I was also interested in.
All images were taken outside, in daylight and by natural light. I did not use a tripod or any fill flash as I did not want the subject to be aware of any intrusion into their world and none of the images were staged. There were several occasions when the person put their camera or phone down or moved away at the critical moment. I considered limiting the selection to either images taken when the other person was using a camera or when using a phone, but decided against this. The final series of images was taken over several weeks during my summer holidays. As several of these were taken in Scotland, the weather, and therefore the quality of the light, was very variable. The images were in both portrait and landscape format, but I limited the selection to all landscape to support the idea of a series.
The next question to be resolved was how to show the images. I thought about both colour and monochrome and ended up converting all the images to monochrome for comparison, and printing some of each. The monochrome conversion was performed in Silver Efex Pro2, and, unlike my normal monochrome pictures, I used a relatively high key conversion using the same settings for all the images to maintain coherence.
I eventually decided on keeping to the original colour images as I felt it is likely that the ‘original’ photographs I was basing my images on would be viewed in colour, and therefore colour was truer to the concept of recording the other photographers interests and themes. Clarke says about colour images ‘Colour photographs remain problematic. They are central to the snapshot, but are still invariably rejected by the professional and art photographer who will use colour only in a deliberate and self-conscious way: either to draw attention to the medium, or to imply a statement about the subject’. (Clarke, 1997). In this case I am using colour in the latter sense. The actual image selection was also influenced by the choice of colour as the most effective images in colour were not the same as the most effective ones in monochrome.
The photographs were printed on Perma Jet Oyster paper via a Canon printer.
I was particularly pleased with the last image as I was standing very close to the photographer in front of me and, by sheer luck, managed to get the horses showing on their camera’s screen just as they were charging towards us.
Amateur Photographer (2017). Amateur Photographer, (12 August 2017), p.5.
Clarke, G. (1997). The photograph. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press.
The exercise is to compare the vision directly with your eyes versus the vision via a camera lens.
When you stand and look at a wide panorama the instinct is to look outwards first, taking in the whole scene and then look at the details. In this exercise you were asked to start with looking at the near ground, moving to the middle and then on to the distance.
I chose an outside landscape where I was standing on the side of a hill, with the ground falling away from of me, then rising to the hills in the distance. There was a fence just in front of me covered in roses in bloom. On looking at the scene I found that I tended to compartmentalise it into visual ‘rooms’ or areas. After the initial glance at the whole scene I would concentrate on a small piece at a time, such as the roses or the hills in the background. I found myself looking around the area- so taking in a greater field of vision than the camera would, even with a wide angle lens. Your brain automatically interprets what you are seeing as three dimensional (provided that you are looking with both eyes or have other reference points such as size of an object). I found it hard to look at, and take in, the whole area at once.
I then took a photograph without moving from the spot. I used a short focal length to get as much of the image in focus as possible, as your eyes automatically refocus between near and far so everything you are looking at appears in focus. On looking at the image the main differences between what I had ‘seen’ and the photograph were
It is ‘flat’ – two dimensional
The rose in the foreground is much more prominent than I was aware (and looks larger)
The sky is much less prominent- I was automatically looking up, but the image is not large enough to show this even on the widest lens setting I had (14mm)
There is no sense of movement – it was a very windy day, even taken at 1/60 sec it has ‘frozen’ the moment
There is an odd bit of tree in the top right corner, my brain had ignored it as it was over my head
This was an interesting exercise and clearly demonstrates that what your eyes are seeing is not the same as the image you are going to get
Be aware of the limitations of the camera
Watch for visual distortions with things that are very close to you – the rose
Focus in book is on the historical greats. Most now deceased although some not
Need to know the background of the photographer to understand the image
What else they have done in the past (or are doing now)
Andre Kertesz, moved to Paris after a stint ion the Great War. Apolitical and interested in people. Lived where popular culture was important for photography and of great interest, therefore published.
What is photographed changes over time, but also will often reappear
But – this may not be for the same reasons
Atget – rag pickers and rubbish, street scenes with the emphasis on people as opposed to Krull where the emphasis is on the equipment
Cartier-Bresson – transit camps pre-echoes the pictures of refugee camps at Calais. Photographer as a witness
Photographers and writers often work together to produce a book.
Sometimes one is the driving force e.g. An illustrated story versus a photobook with additional words
Brassai and Morand – Paris de Nuit
Godwin and Hughes – Remains of Elmet
Need to understand the wider art context of the era images were made.
An idea, thought or feeling versus straightforward documentation of an event
May be staged
Or only minimal parts shown enough to tell the story
Bravo and his idea of the invisible and showing states of mind
Moriyamo street scenes similar intent now
Understanding and meaning of image does not remain static, will change with the viewer and over time
War photography may tell stories about people that are not always the soldiers
Reportage with stories
Story may be more important than the technique
Capa – feeling not focus
What is the person in the photo saying?
Do we have their words recorded?
Do we imagine it?
Do you need the words or do the objects tell the story?
Lange versus Rothstein
Photographs as montages
People placed against a background – constructed images
Pictures placed side by side
Information by inference
Farm security administration
Relationship between the photographer’s art and their take on religion
Minor White and Zen – the indifference of the camera
Interesting note that lots of photographers initially trained as something else
Why? Why not start out as photographers
Seymour (Chim) a pianist
Ansel Adams also a pianist
Winograd a weather forecaster
Use of night photos
High contrast, graphic detail
Use areas of excitement e.g. Movies, fairgrounds
Allows focus on the idea of a place rather than the detail
Put personal anxieties into pictures
Think about communities and how do they affect you
Community versus exclusion
Are you an insider or outside them?
Arbus and the strange people
Use of words in images
May be factual but also ironic
Give meaning/ explanation of time or place
Often tiny but critical
Over time became more deliberate as photographers aware of importance of sign and symbolism
Japanese photographers – images without text
The pictures alone are enough
Witnesses to history, recording but possibly / probably not making a difference
Atmosphere rather than detail
But maybe need explanation of thought processes
Use of transit landscapes
How important is where an image is taken rather than what it is?
Use of colour
Knowing the history and background of the photographer may change your understanding of the image
Things go in circles over time, however, while the types of images may be similar, the reasoning behind them may be very different
Look carefully as a tiny detail may change the entire meaning
Each generation builds on the previous therefore the more you look and study images from different eras the more you can understand the present thoughts.
Compare with Photography as a Contemporary Art by Cotton (Cotton, 2015) where the focus is on the style of photography rather than the individuals and their personalities. Both approaches are useful.
Think about the purpose of the image: as art, to instruct, to give information, advertisement, propaganda
Would have been interesting if went on to cover more of the recent photographers in a similar style.
Cotton, C. (2015). The photograph as contemporary art. London: Thames & Hudson.
Jeffrey, I. (2008). How to read a photograph. London: Thames & Hudson.
The decisive moment as a photographic meme comes from the book ‘The Decisive Moment’ by Henri Cartier-Bresson (Cartier-Bresson, 1852) where, in his introduction he quotes Cardinal de Retz ‘There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment and the masterpiece of good ruling is to know and seize this moment’ (De Retz, 1717). Cartier-Bresson describes this as ‘the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression’. Interestingly, the book, in its original French printing was called ‘Images à la Sauvette’ meaning images on the run which gives a different emphasis – focusing on the photographer’s actions rather than the moment captured.
The phase and the book have both been discussed repeatedly, by photographers, critics and others with a variety of thoughts on the subject. O’Hagen, in a review of a second edition said ‘For me, what is interesting about the republishing of The Decisive Moment is that it has happened too late. The book is now a historical artefact. It cements an idea of photography that is no longer current but continues to exist as an unquestioned yardstick in the public eye: black and white, acutely observational, meticulously composed, charming. Colour and conceptualism may as well not have happened, so enduring is this model of photography outside the world of contemporary photography itself’ (O’Hagen, 2014). Zouhair Ghazzal said ‘Granted that the decisive moment is more of a cliché than a reality, even for its own creator, it still has the status of a myth with too much of an unconscious impact on photojournalism to be dismissed too easily ……. The decisive moment is therefore that infinitely small and unique moment in time which cannot be repeated, and that only the photographic lens can capture.’ (Ghazzal, 2014) and then he goes on to suggest that in modern cities there is no centre and no individuality that would allow the camera (or presumably the photographer) to capture a decisive moment. In an extensive article, the psychologist John Suler dissects what it takes to make a decisive moment – summarised in a series of 10 rules the final one of which is ‘The DM photo is a product of a unique set of technical, cognitive, and emotional skills developed from extensive training and experience in photography, as well as from a psychological knowledge of people’ (Suler, 2013).
The theme that the decisive moment is no longer relevant is suggested in the review by Colin Pantall of the photobook ‘The Present’ by Paul Graham when he says ‘what he wants us to see is the antithesis of the decisive moment and the spectacle of the urban experience. Instead we get a very contemporary contingency, a street with moments so decisively indecisive that we don’t really know what we are looking at or looking for……. He is not so much showing us something as posing a question; what do we look at when we look at a photograph?’ (Pantall, 2012). Writing in Black and White Photography Magazine Alex Schneideman argues that ‘street photography… characterised by chance and the interplay between humanity and the built environment is attractive in concept, but not always worthy of the attention it receives…. it has become a gentle pastime that can be successful by its own standards without delving beneath the surface’ (Schneideman, 2017) implying that there has been something lost in the ongoing urge to simply take photographs in the street without focusing on an underlying concept.
Decisive means settling an issue; producing a definite result and having or showing the ability to make decisions quickly and effectively, while moment means a very brief period of time and an appropriate time for doing something; an opportunity or a particular stage in the development of something or in a course of events (Oxford Dictionaries, English,2017). If you look momentarily outside the field of photography this is discussed in crime novels ‘What is an event, actually? Blinking is an event, going to the toilet is an event, sitting in a café is an event, thinking a thought is an event too. All the things we do and all the things that happen, are events.’ (Horst,2011), autobiography ‘Life isn’t a matter of milestones, but of moments’. (Rose Kennedy, 1974) and music (Pink Floyd, 1973)
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.
Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.
Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I’d something more to say.
Thought I’d something more to say –I think this is the important idea that comes out of all the above. A moment in time, all still photography is capturing a moment in time, it may be very short, a millisecond or less, freezing a frame to capture the beat of a hummingbird’s wing or a falling drop, or several days as in the photography of Wesely, or when capturing the movement of the stars at night. The meme of the decisive moment carries with it connotations of black and white street images with an aura of the past, a romanticised view of time gone by and expert photographers swinging Leica’s from their hips to catch a sudden event. Is it still relevant? Yes, but maybe not if you only think of it that way. What is important is saying something about where you are in your moment, your time and what is happening in your space in the world!
Is the decisive moment the image that I began these thoughts with or is it the ending one, where the only person watching is me?
Cartier-Bresson, H. (1952). The decisive moment. Göttingen: Steidl.