January 10, 2013
by Richard Kalvar
At the last Magnum annual meeting in Arles, at the end of June, we were looking at portfolios of potential nominees. During the projection of the portfolio of a photographer who had a lot of pictures of meaningless moments, I remarked that I was tired of seeing pictures where there would be no apparent difference if the picture had been taken a second before or a second after. One of my colleagues said with a derisive and dismissive snort, “Oh, he still believes in the Decisive Moment!”. Well, I looked around the room (with my mind’s eye, that is) and I saw that almost all of us, the ones that photograph humans and animals, at least, are looking for the decisive moment. Anyone can photograph indecisive moments; of what interest could it possibly be to look at the photographs of 7 billion people photographing just anything? What about the photographers who still believe in the interestingly or well-composed picture, the one that really grabs you? How old-fashioned!
Well, I would concede two things. The first is that the moment that Henri Cartier-Bresson thought was decisive is not the same decisive moment for everyone. Henri made rules about what should be done, but he was in fact describing what HE did. Your decisive moment is not the same as mine, but most of us are looking for a moment that is necessary for what we’re trying to do. Unnecessary moments quickly become easy, common, and boring.
The second thing is that it’s sometimes good to break the rules. But if the rules are pretty good to begin with, that iconoclasm only works the first couple of times. Afterwards it’s just repetitive and uninteresting, the new and less good normal. And as I said, easy.
By the way, HCB was totally opposed to cropping pictures. But he cropped the one at the top of this page.