Assignment 3. The Decisive Moment

“The sectors of a city are decipherable, but the personal meaning they have for us is incommunicable, as is the secrecy of private life in general, regarding which we possess nothing but pitiful documents …”  (Debord. 1961 : @ 8m 37s)

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Ghazzal (2004) suggests that because any object, moment, event or scene can be the subject of a photograph, that the decisive moment may be thought of as a vehicle for the identification of a unique moment, a moment realised by gesture. “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”.

But what if the moment was time itself, and the day that the photographs were taken was not an ‘ordinary’ day, but one that was, if not unique, nevertheless a day where the absence of human activity was evident. The aftermath of Christmas, on bank holiday Monday…

A small series of moments which individually may provide little more than the pitiful documents referred to by Debord, but when viewed together might offer something  more substantive.

I visited the Nicholstown area of Southampton, which is well known to me, being an area in which I have worked for over 20 years. It was a conscious decision to choose bank holiday Monday as I was fairly confident that human activity would be at a minimum, and that I would therefore have a very different perspective from the usual hustle and bustle of a multi-cultural inner city area.I  wasn’t disappointed. The streets, devoid of people at 10.51am when I first started to take photographs, remained largely empty throughout the time that I was walking around the area. To this end, I subsequently started to look for juxtapositions which might suggest indicators of small and unique moments in time.

Although taking photographs digitally, I decided that I would allow myself a maximum of 36 shots, to simulate a roll of analogue film. Although not particularly profligate when photographing digitally, I wanted to minimise the opportunity for ‘point, shoot and see if it works later’. I also elected to use a prime lens (Sigma 60mm f/2.8 DN prime lens) with a fixed focal length, with the intention that the images when presented would be un-cropped.

The final selection of photographs were sequenced in the chronological order that they were taken. On this blog post I have presented the images in the form of a slide show in order to highlight the sequence. Each of these images therefore captured a moment that was a stop on the journey. They became moments along the way from which something more substantive might emerge. This process was akin to something which Bauer (2016) referred to, when describing how she approached the decisive moment in her work.

The photographs and my rationale for them ‘fitting’ with the notion of a decisive moment:

  • @ 10.51am. The first photograph of the day, and the start of my walk. Derby Road, ordinarily a bustling street, with a vast number of local shops open, all serving the local community. Not so on this day, and therefore, if not unique, then at least a very unusual occurrence.
  • @ 10.53am. The invisible hand that pegs the washing out on the line. The bin containing household waste. Both impermanences in a street view which might otherwise be considered to be relatively unchanging.
  • @ 11.00am. More bins, as above. However, I was struck by the sign on the phone box, saying ‘heartburn?’, which within the context of the Christmas period, seemed somewhat ironic.
  • @ 11.17am. Solitary man on his way through the underpass. Something of a rare occurrence on the day in question…and with the light behind him, it just seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
  • @ 11.20am. Plastic bag containing a shopping trolley at the side of the phone box. Lighthouse centre fenced off from the public, and inaccessible. Further impermanences in a street view, and the idea of the lighthouse, a beacon of light to guide others, being unavailable suggested another ironic counterpoint.
  • @ 11.49am. Zone Ends. Despite all of the seemingly permanent fixtures of the Zone Ends sign, the brick wall and the fencing at the end of the road, the small, portable road sign on the pavement opposite facing away from the camera, suggests the invisible hand at play
  • @ 11.53am. Shopping trolley against a fence bearing the logo ‘primesight’-anything but!

Contact sheets

Of the photographs that didn’t make the cut, the rationale for most can be ascribed to one of the following:

I felt that landscape orientation offered stronger images, regardless of subject matter, and therefore these were rejected from the point that I reached the decision. This therefore ruled out 3815, 3816, 3824 & 3825.

I did like the portrait (3826 & 3827), but self evidently it didn’t fit the narrative. I was however delighted to meet up with AB, who I knew as a former resident of a supported living scheme in the area that I used to manage, and was keen for me to take his photograph .

To my mind there was very little story in images 3807, 3808, 3811, 3812, 3813, 3814, 3817,3818, 3828 & 3829.

3821 was badly out of focus, whilst 3832 & 3833 were closer crops of the final image chosen.

With hindsight I probably didn’t need to have had the camera set up to take a 2 shot ‘burst’ given the static nature of the photographs.

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In any event, as HCB himself suggests in citing from the memoirs of Cardinal de Retz (1717) in the epigraph of his first major book of photographs (Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson. 2016), “there is nothing in this world which does not have its decisive moment”. 

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Citations:  

Bauer, A (2016) Cited in ‘In Experimental Photography, Is There Ever a Decisive Moment?’ – Aperture Foundation NY. Available at: http://aperture.org/blog/summer-open-decisive-moment/ (Accessed: 3 January 2017).

Debord, G. (1961) Critique de la séparation / critique of separation (1961). Available at: http://www.larevuedesressources.org/critique-de-la-separation-critique-of-separation-1961,2205.html?lang=en (Accessed: 3 January 2017).

Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson (2016) Press Kit for Exhibition “Henri Cartier-Bresson-Images à la sauvette” (2016) Available at: https://www.henricartierbresson.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Press-Kit-Images-%C3%A0-la-Sauvette-FHCB-GB.pdf (Accessed: 15 January 2017).

Ghazzal, Z. (2004) Decisive Moments. Available at: http://zouhairghazzal.com/photos/aleppo/cartier-bresson (Accessed: 27 December 2016).