Category Archives: Assignment 3: The descisive moment

Response to Tutor Comments for Assignment 3

08/09/17

Assignment Comments:

Tutor comments are  in blue (main points only copied here), my responses in black

Looking at your final series, I felt they all worked well together except for the final picture. I understand why you included it but the scale is quite different from the other pictures. The other pictures are about the photographer as subject, whereas this final picture is about how the camera frames the view, producing a rectilinear ‘slice’ of a ‘scene’ from the vantage point of the photographer.

On thinking about this further I agree that the final image is ‘out of kilter’ with the other images. I originally put it in because I liked it and I was pleased with the effect – but it is more about the camera than the people – while the rest of the images are definitely about the people. It needs to come out of the series for final presentation.

The prints were of sufficient quality for assessment. They appear a touch lighter than your screen images but this is probably due to the difference in viewing conditions. Backlit always looks a little different than paper. If you wanted to adjust this, I would start by looking at the brightness to which you calibrate your monitor.

I was aware they were a little lighter than the screen, but was not sure which was better, my screen brightness is difficult to adjust, and the room it is in gets a lot of light falling on the screen, so that maybe part of the issue. I do calibrate the screen vis a Spyder 3 – but possibly not often enough, so this is something to watch out for.

Despite your card backed and padded envelopes, the prints still arrived with a bent corner.

Something to watch out for – I previously used a clam shell box for final prints – so need to consider this again.

The research section appears to be going well on your blog. One thing I would suggest is to add dates to the posts as this makes it much easier for me to work out what is new and what isn’t.

Taken on board from now. This makes sense as easier to follow, and updates to a post can be separately dated.

It’s not completely clear from your exhibition write ups if you are attending these independently or as part of group study visits.

All my exhibition visits have been solo (or with family).  Need to look for more opportunities for group study visits, so far, by sheer bad luck, all the ones up North have been while I was either away, or at work. However, there is a study group that meets in Glasgow – so that may be a possibility.

A good next step might be to start writing a diary every time you go out and shoot, or whenever you think about photographs. Try to pick out from that what you find interesting and stick with it

Interestingly, I had already started doing this, as I was finding that I was not keeping track of what I was doing, thinking or reading. An extension of this would to add a brief weekly summary to my blog, with key points.

Suggested Reading/Viewing – Parr and Reas

 Martin Parr.

I was already aware of the work of Martin Parr and his exploration of Britain in images as well as other areas. I took this opportunity to have a further look at his extensive oeuvre via his website and came across three pieces of work that are particularly relevant to my assignment on the decisive moment.

  1. Milan Fashion Week; here Parr takes images of the crowd’s extensive use of devices, mainly mobile phones, while at the event. Sometimes it is clear that they are photographing the scene, other times taking selfies, other times they are just looking at their phone, maybe texting or using social media. In this group of images, few of the protagonists appear to be engaged with the event, which either says something about the event, or, more likely, about the perceived importance of social media and your engagement with it, and therefore how it often ‘takes over’ peoples time and thought processes.
  2. Too Much Photography: this article from Parr’s blog talks about the present use of photography by just about everyone, everywhere they go. He says, ‘Now mobile phone cameras and digital photography mean that the entire visit is documented. From the moment the tourist enters the site, everyone has to be photographed in front of every feature of note. Now it is almost impossible for me to shoot a photo where someone is NOT taking a picture or posing for one. ……. My theory is that the act of photographing ourselves at tourist sites becomes so important because it makes us feel reassured that we are a part of the recognisable world’ (Martinparr.com, 2012). I tend to agree with his thoughts here, but would extend it to saying that we feel that we are part of the world and that this fact must be recorded, but, as Parr asks – what happens to the images, and who looks at them. I am aware that personally I shoot thousands of ‘useless’ images that don’t contribute in any valued way to the world, or even to my remembrance of it. Less would definitely be more.
  3. The Selfie Stick: again from Parr’s blog, he talks about the ubiquity of the use and availability of selfie sticks to take images of yourself, or the family, in front of tourist attractions. This doesn’t seem to have taken off to the same degree in Scotland (possibly because we are more often holding umbrellas). I think I prefer this trend to the trend of just taking a selfie at arm’s length, which could be anywhere and talks only about ones own self.

Many of the images he shows are quirky, full of humour and with a somewhat sideways take on modern society. The point he makes is enhanced by the use of series of images which clarify visually the trends shown.

Paul Reas.          

Paul Reas is a new name to me.  He is a social documentary photographer who uses colour images to show British culture and is considered to be in the same genre of British photographers as Martin Parr.  His book ‘I can Help’ documents the consumer culture, while ‘Flogging a Dead Horse’ (1993)’ presents a nationwide survey of the emergence of the ‘heritage industry’: museums and theme parks such as Beamish Open  Air Museum that offered a nostalgic and often commercialised version of the past in the wake of the collapse of heavy manufacturing and industry’ (Shutter Hub, 2013). The image ‘Flogging a Dead Horse, Man with a Movie Camera’ shows a man in a smart outfit looking intently though his camera. It would be interesting to know his thoughts, and whether he had ever worked in the type of industry he was photographing.  In an article about the series by The British Council – Visual Arts it is described as ‘The tourist of the nineties, with camcorder and auto-focus camera, expects a ‘hands-on’ experience. But the trouble with Heritage Culture is that the safe inconsequential history it markets doesn’t educate, it only sedates its audience. Heritage is meretricious history that never challenges the present. Consumerist history: history for a disposable income. Like a steam train, it takes you on a pleasant ride to nowhere, and then back to where you started.‘ (Visualarts.britshcouncil.org, 1994).

Man With Movie Camera  © Paul Reas

Man With Movie Camera © Paul Reas

Image posted with kind permission of Paul Reas

Reas’s images are gritty and do not feel as slick as those of Parr, they are not as ‘amusing’ but they do get under your skin in the same way, giving an ironic take on the culture we live in and how it is influenced by the need to seek out pleasures and record them, even if those recordings never reach the light of a photograph album.

References:

Martinparr.com. (2012). Too Much Photography | Martin Parr. [online] Available at: https://www.martinparr.com/2012/too-much-photography/ [Accessed 5 Sep. 2017].

Shutter Hub. (2013). Paul Reas – Day Dreaming About The Good Times? on the Shutter Hub Blog. [online] Available at: https://shutterhub.org.uk/blog/paul-reas-day-dreaming-about-the-good-times [Accessed 8 Sep. 2017].

Visualarts.britishcouncil.org. (1994). BEAMISH OPEN AIR MUSEUM ‘THE NORTHERN EXPERIENCE’, Paul Reas | Portfolios | Collection | British Council – Visual Arts. [online] Available at: http://visualarts.britishcouncil.org/collection/portfolios/flogging-a-dead-horse/object/beamish-open-air-museum-the-northern-experience-reas-1992-flogging-a-dead-horse-p6174/view/portfolio/initial/a/page/1 [Accessed 8 Sep. 2017].

Assignment 3

Brief: A series of 6 – 8 photographic prints on the theme of the ‘decisive moment’, which may support the tradition or question the concept.

Thought Process.

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.

https://scottishzoe.blog/2017/07/27/lamore-de-court-just-plain-love

https://scottishzoe.blog/2017/08/05/the-decisive-moment-or-not

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.

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Pigeons Arguing

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’.

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The Man or the Peacock?

Research.

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.

Planning.

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.

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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.

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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.

Final Images:

s

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Kew Botanic Gardens – Photographing Flowers

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Kew Botanic Gardens – Two photographers at the Lake

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Yorkshire Military Experience – Photographing vehicles

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Yorkshire Military Experience – Photographing the Campground

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Fort William – Photographing Loch Linnhe in the Rain

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Fort William – Photographing the Mountains

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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.

Contact Sheets.

References

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].

The Decisive Moment – or Not?

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?

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References

Cartier-Bresson, H. (1952). The decisive moment. Göttingen: Steidl.

De Retz (1717). Memoires.

Ghazzal, Z. (2004). The indecisiveness of the decisive moment. [online] Zouhairghazzal.com. Available at: http://zouhairghazzal.com/photos/aleppo/cartier-bresson.htm [Accessed 5 Aug. 2017].

Horst, J. (2011). Dregs.

Kennedy, R. (1974). Times to remember. New York: Doubleday.

O’Byrne, R. (2001). H. Cartier-Bresson: l’amour tout court. [online] Vimeo. Available at: https://vimeo.com/106009378 [Accessed 24 Jul. 2017].

O’Hagan, S. (2014). Cartier-Bresson’s classic is back -but his Decisive Moment has passed. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/dec/23/henri-cartier-bresson-the-decisive-moment-reissued-photography [Accessed 4 Aug. 2017].

Oxford Dictionaries | English. (2017). [online] Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/decisive [Accessed 5 Aug. 2017].

Pantall, C. (2012). photo-eye Book Reviews: The Present. [online] Blog.photoeye.com. Available at: http://blog.photoeye.com/2012/05/photo-eye-book-reviews-present.html [Accessed 5 Aug. 2017].

Pink Floyd (1973). Time (The Dark Side of the Moon). Harvest Records.

Schneideman, A. (2017). Thinking Photography. Black and White, (February), pp.62-65.

Suler, J. (2017). Photographic Psychology: The Decisive Moment. [online] Truecenterpublishing.com. Available at: http://truecenterpublishing.com/photopsy/decisive_moment.htm [Accessed 4 Aug. 2017].