Research Point – Zouhair Ghazzal – re-visited

In my feedback on the Decisive Moment assignment, my tutor suggested that I re-look at the points made by Zouhair Gazzal in his essay:  The indecisiveness of the decisive moment to try to understand his points more deeply.

My initial analysis of Ghazzal’s essay can be seen in my post: Research Point – Zouhair Ghazzal .

Ghazzal’s essay begins with Cartier-Bresson’s image ‘Jewish neighbourhood of Baghdad in 1950‘. He uses this image to illustrate that a successful photograph does not need to follow the conventions of the decisive moment since, he argues that this image is successful but has no decisive moment: ‘HCB framed all that in a single shot; but there was no decisive moment per se here, as much as an instinctive feeling of what it meant to be in a neighbourhood like this one’. I looked at this image and couldn’t help but feel that the gaze directly at the camera, of the woman seated at the front, could constitute a decisive moment. The photograph would not be the same without that face staring out like that.

Ghazzal says that Cartier Bresson was hailed for his ‘photographic formulation’ of the decisive moment. These words suggest a formulaic approach much like certain authors create formulaic, predictable plots for their novels creating popular best sellers but nothing original. Does predictable mean boring? A lot of people would disagree as they look forward to the next John Grisham.  However, Ghazzal questions the relevance of the decisive moment to photography and suggests that the genre has an over elevated status which, while making it hard to dismiss, is not entirely justified.

He describes Cartier-Bresson’s images as ‘well known relics’, suggesting that his approach is outdated and old-fashioned. He describes decisive moment photography as ‘anecdotic’: ‘short accounts or humourous or interesting incidents’ that are entirely separate from the real world and lived experiences. He suggests that the decisive moment image can have no precise meaning or no meaning at all and can be likened to a ‘one night stand’ that has no meaning and no connection to anything else; it is just an isolated fraction of time.

On re-visiting this essay, I realise that my tutor may have asked me to look at my analysis again because of my error in understanding Ghazzal’s final comments in which he says 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’.

I had said that I did not fully understand his comments about fewer opportunities for decisive moment photography. I realise now that I misinterpreted and misunderstood Ghazzal’s statement. My revised interpretation of this is that Ghazzal is not saying that there are fewer decisive moment opportunities but that human experience is much wider than this, urban landscapes are becoming more and more similar, and the fragment of time that is the decisive moment fails to capture the essence of this, presenting only an anecdote that would reduce and diminish the lives and experience of people to something much more trivial and much less serious.





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