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’.
The Man or the Peacock?
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.
Who am I?
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.
A Wet Day in the Mountains
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.
Kew Botanic Gardens – Photographing Flowers
Kew Botanic Gardens – Two photographers at the Lake
Yorkshire Military Experience – Photographing vehicles
Yorkshire Military Experience – Photographing the Campground
Fort William – Photographing Loch Linnhe in the Rain
Fort William – Photographing the Mountains
Carlisle – Hadrian’s Cavalry Charge
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.
Farago, J. (2017). Cindy Sherman Takes Selfies (as Only She Could) on Instagram. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/06/arts/design/cindy-sherman-instagram.html [Accessed 18 Aug. 2017].
OUPblog. (2013). Scholarly reflections on the ‘selfie’ OUPblog. [online] Available at: https://blog.oup.com/2013/11/scholarly-reflections-on-the-selfie-woty-2013/ [Accessed 18 Aug. 2017].
Sherman, C. (2017). cindy sherman (@_cindysherman_) ˖ Instagram photos and videos. [online] Instagram.com. Available at: http://instagram.com/_cindysherman_ [Accessed 18 Aug. 2017].