EYV The Decisive Moment debate – where I stand

As part of my research for EYV Assignment 3, I was interested to look at the idea of the Decisive Moment in more depth and to consider my own views of this as a genre of photography.

Henri Cartier-Bresson is acknowledged as the master of the Decisive Moment in photography and he coined the phrase to describe that specific moment when all elements of an image come together to perfectly capture the meaning and expression of that particular moment. I greatly admire Cartier-Bresson’s work and appreciate how he captures movement at just the right time to show a fraction of time as a fleeting moment never to occur again.

Bresson says: ‘To me, photography is 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’ (Fynn 2012)

His image, here, captures a man running in the rain at a moment where both feet are off the floor, highlighting the action and creating an ‘unattached’ shadow that balances the image and draws the eye to the point of potential contact of his foot with the floor. In a split second, this image would not be possible.


Image 1

Bresson suggests that such timing is down to luck. However, he also says that ‘it’s in the eye, you have it or you don’t’. (Bresson 2001)

Being in the right place at the right time, and being skilled and quick enough, to capture a well composed, exposed and balanced image at precisely the right moment is no easy task and Bresson describes himself as an instinctive photographer. My research into decisive moment photography has certainly encouraged me to look and notice situations that may present decisive moment images and has created an increased awareness of  composition and meaning within images.

In considering assignment 3 and contemplating the traditional street photography approach, I began also to consider the decisive moment in landscape photography. I will expand on this in my analysis for assignment 3 but here, I want to record my developing understanding that the definition is not restricted to capturing the movement and gestures of people or other action, but a decisive moment can be seen in the light, for example, as it falls on a landscape and thus highlights colour or shape in a unique way, quickly to disappear and never appear again in quite the same convergence.

Bresson’s images are well known and familiar. I recognised many without having heard of the photographer prior to starting this course. I was interested in the following quote:

‘The reason his (Bresson’s) photographs often feel numbly impersonal now is not just that they are familiar. It’s that they’re so coolly composed, so infernally correct that there’s nothing raw about them, and you find yourself thinking: would it not be more interesting if his moments were a little less decisive? (Gaby Wood quoted in Photopedagogy)

On searching for decisive moment images, I found many images that I regard as clichéd for their almost predictable and comic moments. These are the images that have found their way to the walls of numerous homes and which I get a bit tired of looking at. A dog positioned so its owner appears to have a dog’s face, someone with a comic look as another bends over, a couple embracing so you can’t tell which limbs belong to which person. I see these as ‘greeting card’ images and agree with the quote above, that a little less precision may make a more interesting image.

Also, I particularly like movement and blur within an image. The capturing of the trace of time as opposed to a tiny fraction of it creates meaningful and interesting ‘longer moments’.  I am reminded of Derek Trillo’s architectural images which use the blur of people moving around an architectural setting to capture the passage of time and show buildings ‘in use’ as public spaces rather than as empty shells.

See my post: Photography Matters Symposium (including Derek Trillo)

List of illustrations

Image 1:

Bresson, H (1932) Behind the Gare St. Lazare. Photograph. At: http://photobucket.com/images/cartier%20bresson  Accessed 12 November 2016


Fynn,S (2012) StudioFynn. The decisive moment: understanding convergence. (Blog) At: http://studiofynn.com/journal/decisive-moment-understanding-convergence (Accessed 12 November 16)

Cartier- Bresson, H, (2001) L’amour tout court (“Just Plain Love”) [Interview]. At: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=L%27amour+tout+court&&view=detail&mid=3D66905820624226CFF03D66905820624226CFF0&rvsmid=C7A87B000AC94E72DDF5C7A87B000AC94E72DDF5&fsscr=0&FORM=VDQVAP (Accessed 2 May 2017)

Wood, G in Photopedagogy. At: http://www.photopedagogy.com/the-indecisive-moment.html (Accessed 2 May 2017)



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