The Decisive Moment

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The Decisive Moment


Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) is considered by many to be the father of modern photojournalism. In 1957, Cartier-Bresson told the Washington Post:
“Photography is not like painting,”. “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative,” he said. “Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”
This is The Decisive Moment, as Cartier-Bresson defines it, ‘the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression.”

Last week, I quoted Andy Warhol, who decided that a good photograph need only be in focus and be of a famous person.  I like Cartier-Bresson’s idea better!!

When I started in photojournalism, the photographer was given the freedom to wait for that decisive moment, and if he or she was skilled  enough- to capture that moment on film. This took skill and concentration, because one never knew when that moment might happen. It also took a certain knowledge of the subject (certain people jumped off of things regularly, certain people played weird instruments at times) and the ability to wait for those moments and capture them. For example:

There are many rules of rock and roll, and one of them is- When someone on stage climbs up on something, there are really only two ways for that person to get down, and only one of those two ways looks cool! He or she can either crawl back down (not cool) or he or she can jump (hopefully gracefully) to the stage (hopefully very cool).

Eddie Van Halen               Fall Out Boy                  Pete Townshend

Van Halen Tweeter Center Pete Townshend

Today, all of the above is pretty much impossible. If one were allowed to only shoot the first three songs, or in the case of Beyonce, the first 90 seconds (up from 60 seconds last year) finding any kind of decisive moment is impossible. This has reduced the modern music photographer to nothing more than a living copy stand, only capable of capturing a Warhol like in focus photo. Although I rarely go to concerts any more, when I do, I see photographers running around trying to shoot as many photos as they can in the short time allotted, hoping to go home and edit the take down to a few good ones. More than likely, that decisive moment will be taking place about the time they are arriving home to start the editing process.