Research Point – Zouhair Ghazzal

In researching for the exercises and assignment in part 3: The Decisive Moment, I looked at the work of Robert Capa and of Robert Frank, Michael Wesley, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Henri Cartier-Bresson and have recorded my thoughts in my hard-copy learning log.

Here, I want to look at the article by Zouhair Ghazzal: The indecisiveness of the decisive moment to help with formulating my own views on the significance of the Decisive Moment in photography.

I find this quite a difficult concept and am having some difficulty with fully understanding what constitutes a ‘decisive moment’ in photography. How is it different to capturing any significant event, say the crossing of a finish line in a race?

Zouhair Ghazzal’s definition (Ghazzal 2004)  has helped me to understand. He said:

‘The decisive moment is … that infinitely small and unique moment in time which cannot be repeated, and that only the photographic lens can capture’. (Ghazzal 2004).

Ghazzal feels that although landscapes and buildings can be the subject of the decisive moment, ‘Cartier-Bresson’s photography is at its best with bodies and their gestures’.  He feels that the technique works best when the image captured communicates to the viewer what happened immediately before and after the photograph was taken in addition to showing the actual moment captured, and is consequently ‘meaningful’.

Ghazzal says that some photographers argue that the reliance on gestures in the decisive moment is a weakness. He suggests that the work of Walker Evans is powerful because of its lack of a decisive moment: he says that his static photographs of ordinary life, ‘(invite) the viewer to keep looking on for ever’, and his secretly shot images of the New York Metro passengers ‘have something else … beyond the decisive moment’. (Ghazzal 2004)

Similarly, Ghazzal uses Cartier Bresson’s image  Jewish neighborhood of Baghad in 1950  to illustrate how a photograph accurately captures the detail of a neighbourhood without a decisive moment. He acknowledges Bresson’s contribution to photography with the use of the decisive moment but questions its continued relevance. He describes it as a cliché, as comprising ‘humorous or interesting incidents’.

Speaking of America particularly, he feels that the modern city provides a repetitive urban landscape with ‘less and less decisive moments’. He goes on to say that modern urban landscapes are ‘so monotonous and dull, that no decisive moment would be able to capture’. Thus, he questions the relevance for photographers today of the decisive moment.

Following my reading and analysis of Ghazzal’s review, I feel that I don’t fully understand  his comments about opportunities for decisive moment photography but I acknowledge his view that other genres of photography are equally significant.

I consider the Decisive Moment further in my post: The Decisive Moment – Where I Stand

Please also see my further consideration of this essay in my post:  Zouhair Ghazzal – revisited


Ghazzal, Z (2004) The indecisiveness of the decisive moment. At 16 August 2016)



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