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Dennis Stock Portrait of photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, a founder member of Magnum Photos on the roof of the Magnum office in Manhattan, 1961.“Dennis thought no shot was better than the wrong shot. He w (...)
Micha Bar Am (Levitation) at the Western Wall.“The Western Wall, also called The Wailing Wall, is the only remnant of the Herodian temple destroyed by the Romans over 2000 years ago. The Jewish believers co (...)
Paolo Pellegrin “Few of my images fit with the common interpretation of the Cartier-Bresson decisive moment. I think this is because, for the most part, my work develops in the long form, the narrative unfolding t (...)
Alex Webb “Probably, no photographer has influenced me for as long as Henri Cartier-Bresson. For some 50 years, I’ve been drawn to his early, pre-war work with its surreal ambiguity. However, ever since I fi (...)
Stuart Franklin “The decisive moment, when you think about it, is a one-dimensional concept. It deals with time or timing. It fails to do justice to the larger meaning behind Henri Cartier-Bresson’s idea or the 20 (...)
Burt Glinn “Burt spent 18 hours with Sammy Davis Jr., before, during and after he performed live in NYC. Coming down from the high of the event took until dawn, so Burt stayed with him all night, with Sammy D (...)
Elliott Erwitt “Confucius said, ‘Jumping on New York City rooftops and landing en point leaves no room for indecisive moments.’”

— Elliott Erwitt © Elliott Erwitt | Magnum Photos
Jonas Bendiksen “I took this image at the Black Sea beachfront in the city of Sukhumi in the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia. Tourists and locals were hanging out picnicking and bathing. When people are hurling (...)
Raghu Rai Wrestlers in Akhara, Delhi, 1988.“I shot this image in 1988 when I was doing my second book on Delhi. While driving past, I saw the main door of a wresting complex (Akhara) garishly painted wit (...)
Thomas Hoepker “In 1966 I met Muhammad Ali for the third time. He was training in the historic gym of Johnny Coulon in Chicago. His nickname was ‘The Chicago Spyder’. He had been the bantam-weight champion of the (...)
Patrick Zachmann Ah Sai, former member of secret society Sun Yee On. Kowloon. Hong Kong. 1987. © Patrick Zachmann | Magnum Photos
Bruce Gilden “I thought I couldn’t be better than Henri Cartier-Bresson so I decided to be the best Bruce Gilden I can be.At that time the cops would chase away the people selling Frankfurters with their car (...)
Carolyn Drake “This image recalls a moment in my own life; it puts me in the shoes of myself before I moved abroad in my thirties, just starting my career as a photographer, so is this how I saw the US back then (...)
Eve Arnold “I never knew anyone who even came close to Marilyn in natural ability to use both photographer and still camera. She was special in this, and for me there has been no one like her before or after. (...)
Tim Hetherington “How spontaneous is that glance? It’s hard to know if Tim made this portrait as a caught moment or as a process, but we do know that it was purposeful. Having deliberately identified it as a rubber (...)
Thomas Dworzak Coastal promenade of Sokhumi, Abkhazia/Abkhazeti, Georgia. 1995“Founded as an ancient Greek trading outpost, this city of many nationalities was one of the most desired holiday destinations of t (...)
Martin Parr “This is the swimming club in Brighton, who go and swim in the sea, every day of the year, regardless of the weather (wet suits are discouraged). You can see, here, the waves were so fierce, they w (...)
Bruno Barbey “I remembered the 1930 photograph by Martin Munkacsi of three backlit kids running towards the foamy waves of Lake Tanganyika: Cartier-Bresson said it had inspired his work. In my picture, the chil (...)
Ian Berry “I went to South Africa three weeks before the election that everybody anticipated would bring the ANC and Mandela to power. Even this long before, my press accreditation was numbered over 300. Man (...)
Trent Parke From the series 'The Camera Is God'. Candid portrait of a man standing on a street corner, Adelaide, 2014.“Most of my shooting on the streets relies on chance: how light interacts with the stree (...)
David Hurn “There are two fundamental elements in all picture-taking: where to stand and when to release the shutter, i.e. position and timing. All other elements are extensions, peripheral compared to them. (...)
Jean Gaumy “The real often yields explosive propositions.A childhood beach, stretched ropes supporting fragmented bodies in precarious balance, chopped off by the edges of the photographic frame.I was alm (...)
Werner Bischof Werner Bischof’s wife Rosellina had spent over three months with the photographer in Japan, when she wrote in her diary:"It is snowing today - Tokyo is enchanted - Werner and I visited the Meiji (...)
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Pablo Picasso playing in the water with his son Claude. Vallauris, France. 1948.“You never know if you have a prize picture or not because when you shoot nearly every picture is the same to you (...)
Rene Burri “‘Picture this: In the midst of the Cold War, I find myself immersed in the world of the military, the uniformed. Navigating through threatening waters, our submarine heads towards land. As I emerg (...)
“The decisive moment and the excellence of composition are the basis of the hegemonic graphic aesthetic of images that, while suggesting an impossible truth, satisfy the existential comfort of view (...)
Michael Christopher Brown “Sometimes I’m able to capture a decisive moment and other times, call it slow or lazy, I’m just dumbfounded by what is in front of me and am either late or I completely forget about photography an (...)
Chien-Chi Chang “Rowing with paddles attached to their legs so as to leave their hands free, fishermen on Northern Inle Lake, Myanmar, are today largely a tourist attraction. They play to the appeal of a land unto (...)
Abbas The Suspended Moment“I leave the ‘decisive moment’ to Henri. ‘Decisive’ gives the impression the moment was frozen in time. For fifty years, my photography has been a succession of ‘suspended mo (...)
Olivia Arthur “I was on the beach in Iran and there was the most incredible electric storm going on. Forks of lightning were coming down over the water and the sky was so dark I remember checking the reading on (...)
Steve McCurry “Tea is such an important part of Pakistan's culture that a tea plant is on the state emblem of the country. Tea is served with every meal, for tea breaks during the workday, and for any and every (...)
David Alan Harvey “The decisive moment can take a lot of clock time. This particular decisive moment took two weeks of my time. The summer foam party at the club Amnesia in Ibiza, Spain only happens once per week. I (...)
Bieke Depoorter “Sometimes, you realize that you’re part of a moment that has all the visual elements that are necessary to create a good photo, and therefore communicates the atmosphere you were a part of. For me (...)
Peter van Agtmael “On the surface, this is a static landscape. I was on a road trip with Karl Ove Knausga°rd for a piece for The New York Times Magazine. We had been driving through generic scenes of low forests and (...)
Christopher Anderson “I made this image on a hilltop near Bethlehem. It was a moment that was there then was gone. I guess that is what Henri Cartier-Bresson was talking about?”

— Christopher Anderson © Christopher Anderson | Magnum Photos
Nikos Economopoulos Trinidad, Cuba, 2015“I often followed this man and his rooster on the edge of town. He strolled around, smoked his cigar, talked to his pet. What the afternoon light connects is a minute peak of (...)
Sohrab Hura Self Portrait With Dog, 2007“I sat there on the beach, thinking of you: the black of you in all that white, tail rolling into whiplash. You had all of a sudden nipped your head back at me. Jowls (...)
Lorenzo Meloni “I spent more than a year working in Tripoli’s Bab al-Tabbaneh district in Lebanon, documenting a politically fuelled sectarian conflict. I visited many homes on the frontline but people rarely wan (...)
Eli Reed Tyra Banks and John Singleton, 1994“Tyra had asked me to do a shoot with her after seeing a contact sheet of photos of another actor during downtime on a set. We were both fatigued during the sh (...)
Constantine Manos “This picture was taken at a public stage on the boardwalk at Hollywood Beach, Florida in 2003. Some children walking along the boardwalk with their parents cannot resist jumping on the stage and t (...)
Paul Fusco “When I take photographs it is like dancing with my subject: they move and I react, shifting, moving, gliding into place to capture the relationship between us. When I took this picture at Woodstoc (...)
Guy Le Querrec “The flying bag, taken on Friday April 27, 1984. From my first photo-reportage in China. 1984.I took a flight from Paris to Moscow, then, a train from Moscow to Peking: one week on the Trans-Mon (...)
Miguel Rio Branco “Since my use of photography began at the same time as my work in cinematography, the term ‘decisive moment’ was something I had never heard of. As well as the non-cropping of images, the movie cam (...)
Jim Goldberg 6PM, Kiev Ukraine, 2006 from the series Open See“Wandering Kiev with my 4x5, I saw this woman of the streets readily posing for my camera. For a split second, the light, soft smoke and her pose (...)
Harry Gruyaert Erfoud, Morocco. 1986.“When I arrived at the souk of Erfoud in South Morocco, I was interested in the color of the wall, the goat on the right and the veiled woman sitting on the left. I took a (...)
Erich Hartmann “A good photograph should not need a description; it should speak for itself, and I cannot possibly know why Erich took this picture nor what he was thinking at the time on that snowy day in Midtow (...)
Carl De Keyzer “I’d like to think that in my work two decisive moments are at play: the moment of the exposure and the moment of the book release. Timing is of the essence but a serious amount of good luck and a (...)
Hiroji Kubota “This photo has become well known, which is, in a way, quite understandable, but for the people of Burma or Myanmar, especially Buddhists, the way I composed this without a holy pagoda on the top o (...)
Newsha Tavakolian “For my project Listen I made a series of imaginary CD covers for six women singers. I shot several situations, but this one, taken on the shores of the Caspian Sea, came about by a stroke of luck. (...)
Herbert List “Every good photo has been taken at a decisive moment, just some moments appear quieter and more long-lasting than others. In all cases, photography allows us to bring things to a halt in a constan (...)
Donovan Wylie “When I was a kid my brother’s friend gave me his father’s camera. It was a Yashica Mat and I loved it, but it had one serious fault (which I came to love): sometimes when you pressed the shutter r (...)
Peter Marlow “A family holiday taken on a whim. Montana, 2000. Peter had been there the previous year. 2000 was the year of the great fires and though the Big Sky was, to us, crystal clear, locals said it was ‘ (...)
Wayne Miller “Photography is different from writing, in that you have to make that snap decision. In fact, you have to take the picture before you make the decision in order to get it. In my way, in my work, in (...)
Max Pinckers Police, from the series Two Kinds of Memory and Memory Itself, 2015“Photography’s ambiguous relationship to time makes the idea of a specially captured moment very attractive, presenting itself (...)
Gueorgui Pinkhassov Moscow, Russia, Soviet Union. 1981An attempted murder. The aggressor plunges a shank into his victim’s stomach.“Unfortunately, I can’t tell you any more than what you see in the photo. I, mys (...)
Jacob Aue Sobol “I arrive in Ulaanbaatar after four days on the Trans-Siberian train. It’s a relief to get to and be among people again. The Mongolians appear proud and strong, but they also seem caught in a stran (...)
Susan Meiselas “The eye seeks a frame within which a gesture is suspended, motion frozen and all in balance. One can wander or wait to recognize and capture it.”

— Susan Meiselas © Susan Meiselas | Magnum Photos
Larry Towell “I took this photograph in 1994 in a small desert Mennonite colony in the center of Mexico. I’d met members of the Old Colony sect five years earlier as they’d arrived in Canada hungry, dirt-poor m (...)
Erich Lessing “At the 1955 conference in Geneva, the Big Four – the Soviet Union, the US, Britain and France – discussed how to make a long-lasting peace. The mood was uplifting and full of hope for the future. (...)
Mark Power Berlin, Germany. November 9th/10th 1989“By a series of fortunate events I found myself in Berlin on the night the Wall (unexpectedly) opened. The story of how I came to be there at all is a long (...)
Cristina Garcia Rodero “It’s that magical moment of kismet when space, time, wisdom and heart mingle and produce a unique photograph full of expression; where composition, timing, experience and emotion come together per (...)
Alessandra Sanguinetti “I like to stay long enough in one place or situation to watch the scene unfold, either because of my presence or in spite of it, lingering until it all slows down enough so I can contemplate and b (...)
Moises Saman “My definition of the decisive moment has evolved over the years. I used to think that to capture it implied photographing a precise moment at the peak of some sort of dramatic action. I now seek t (...)
Inge Morath © The Inge Morath Foundation Pre^tre Ouvrier (worker priest) in Paris, France, 1953.“As I was selling more pictures, my confidence grew. I went back to Paris and worked for three months on a story about the Pre^tres Ouvrier (...)
David Seymour “Chim (David Seymour, 1911-1956) captured this instantly recognizable, proud and decisive moment as a smiling father shows off his baby daughter. The joyous feelings for this first newborn in the s (...)
Chris Steele-Perkins “This could be seen as a decisive moment in a couple of ways: the most obvious is the fraction of time that holds the girls, their flight, their shape, their joy, and the excluded boy, but it was a (...)
Jérôme Sessini “I took this picture a few hours after my arrival in La Havana. It was in July, on the Malecón; there are storms every night at that time of the year. I was sheltered from the rain under a porch wh (...)
John Vink “This is sort of a ‘decisive moment’ in reverse. For a typical ‘decisive moment’ photograph the photographer waits and the subject moves. Here, the subject didn’t move, enjoying the satisfying spec (...)
George Rodger “Emmanuel Rwahwire is the youngest member of the Mpango in Bunyoro and stands here in his robe of bark cloth, ready to serve his King.”

— George Rodger’s diary entry, 1954 © George Rodger | Magnum Photos
Richard Kalvar “Who would have thought, as I was taking a few not very interesting pictures of this nice little English lady feeding pigeons in Central Park, that two of them would suddenly and simultaneously dec (...)
Cornell Capa © International Center of Photography [Cheering the arrival of rebellious Argentine naval troops who would complete overthrow of Juan Perón, Buenos Aires], September, 1955“[S]eldom if ever has a dictatorship dissolved in front of a (...)
Leonard Freed “Leonard told me this story: In the mid 1970s when he was photographing Sicily, Italy, he came upon a picturesque set of stairs leading to the top of the town. As he was standing there with his cam (...)
Mikhael Subotzky “I was fascinated by this encounter with the optometrist. At the moment that my retinas, my essential organs for seeing, were photographed, I was blinded by the apparatus that made the images, so i (...)

As we enter our 70th year, we take a look back at one of the photographic theory famously associated with agency co-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson with The (More or Less) Decisive Moments, asking Magnum photographers to explore what the of notion of decisive moment means to them, and how – if at all – it manifests in their own practice. Photographers have responded with a chosen image and a supportive text, opening up something of a discussion.

These images are available to purchase for $100, as a signed or estate-stamped print for five days only, from the Magnum Shop.

The term ‘decisive moment’ was originally coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson’s English language publisher, who, in 1952, translated the French title of his book, Images à la Sauvette, to The Decisive Moment. Since then, it has become a fundamental notion in the study and practice of photography.

Years later, Cartier-Bresson playfully annotated Martin Parr’s personal copy to read ‘The More or Less Decisive Moments’, hinting at the plurality and ambiguity of its meaning.

 

Collection Martin Parr Martin Parr's copy of 'The Decisive Moment', annotated by Henri Cartier-Bresson to read 'The More or Less Decisive Moments'. © Collection Martin Parr | Magnum Photos

The decisive moment is often described as an ephemeral or spontaneous composition perfectly captured by the photographer; as Chien-Chi Chang notes of his image, “the decisive moment is a moment of grace, when the light is right, the circles are in harmony, the legs upraised just so. Click.”

However, the decisive moment is also an expression open to interpretation, playfulness, and even rejection: this project explores what the concept of ‘decisive moment’ means to Magnum photographers.

 

Alex Webb “Probably, no photographer has influenced me for as long as Henri Cartier-Bresson. For some 50 years, I’ve been drawn to his early, pre-war work with its surreal ambiguity. However, ever since I fi (...)
Chien-Chi Chang “Rowing with paddles attached to their legs so as to leave their hands free, fishermen on Northern Inle Lake, Myanmar, are today largely a tourist attraction. They play to the appeal of a land unto (...)
Hiroji Kubota “This photo has become well known, which is, in a way, quite understandable, but for the people of Burma or Myanmar, especially Buddhists, the way I composed this without a holy pagoda on the top o (...)
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Pablo Picasso playing in the water with his son Claude. Vallauris, France. 1948.“You never know if you have a prize picture or not because when you shoot nearly every picture is the same to you (...)

Alex Webb reflects on his own relationship to Cartier-Bresson and the decisive moment, “Probably, no photographer has influenced me for as long as Henri Cartier-Bresson… ever since I first saw my father’s copy of The Decisive Moment in the late 1960s, I’ve been uneasy with the title. The notion of a ‘decisive moment’ seems just too pat, too unpoetic for such a complicated vision. Years later, it was gratifying to discover that the original French title was Images à la Sauvette— ’Images on the Sly’— a humbler notion more in the spirit of his early street photographs, work that embraces the mystery and uncertainty of collaborating with the world. ‘It is the photo that takes you,’ as he once said.”

 

"It is the image that takes you"

- Henri Cartier-Bresson
Thomas Hoepker “In 1966 I met Muhammad Ali for the third time. He was training in the historic gym of Johnny Coulon in Chicago. His nickname was ‘The Chicago Spyder’. He had been the bantam-weight champion of the (...)
Werner Bischof Werner Bischof’s wife Rosellina had spent over three months with the photographer in Japan, when she wrote in her diary:"It is snowing today - Tokyo is enchanted - Werner and I visited the Meiji (...)
Matt Black Syracuse, New York. USA. 2015. © Matt Black | Magnum Photos
Jean Gaumy “The real often yields explosive propositions.A childhood beach, stretched ropes supporting fragmented bodies in precarious balance, chopped off by the edges of the photographic frame.I was alm (...)

Every photographer within Magnum was invited to select an image from their archive and to reflect upon how the photographic concept of ‘the decisive moment’ touches their practice.

“The decisive moment, when you think about it, is a one-dimensional concept. It deals with time or timing. It fails to do justice to the larger meaning behind Henri Cartier-Bresson’s idea or the 20th century master’s elegant and much more broadly decisive approach to photography. This includes the decisive composition, geometry, quality of light and subject,” states Stuart Franklin. He continues, describing his image, “this picture, from Moss Side, Manchester, chimes with the larger meaning and the spirit of Cartier-Bresson’s influence on me. I took two or three rolls of film of this scene as it unfolded, but there is only one picture that works, where all the elements come together: timing, composition, geometry and the situation as I wanted to remember it.”

Stuart Franklin “The decisive moment, when you think about it, is a one-dimensional concept. It deals with time or timing. It fails to do justice to the larger meaning behind Henri Cartier-Bresson’s idea or the 20 (...)

On observing her photographer husband, and early Magnum member, Werner Bischof, joyously capture what he immediately recognised as a decisive moment (and what has become his iconic image Courtyard of the Meiji Shrine, part of this project), Rosellina Bischof wrote in her diary: “Suddenly Werner runs away with his camera. I stop, terrified. What happened? He comes back after a little bit. Still out of breath but overjoyed he admits: I just took THE picture of Japan!”

Robert Capa wasn’t always so sure. For him, images become iconic because of their public, and the editors who publish them. “You never know if you have a prize picture or not because when you shoot nearly every picture is the same to you and the prize picture is born in the imagination of editors and the public who see them.”

Perhaps being able to capture what will become a decisive moment is all about state of mind. As Jean Gaumy describes his approach to taking pictures: “Being ready. Recognising and framing what comes suddenly to the surface, without having ever really considered or planned it. Making choices in the instant, choosing instinctively, under the effect of submerged references, more or less conscious. To make choices, to choose incessantly, this is one of the most interesting and beautiful aspects of art and of photography.”

Jonas Bendiksen elaborates on his own approach to photography: “Actually, I often don’t think so much at all when I photograph, it is more gut instinct working, just lots of reactions. For me, the thinking and categorizing is better done before and after the actual photographing…Whatever it is, the shutter had better be open at the right time.”

 

Jonas Bendiksen “I took this image at the Black Sea beachfront in the city of Sukhumi in the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia. Tourists and locals were hanging out picnicking and bathing. When people are hurling (...)

"Whatever it is, the shutter had better be open at the right time"

- Jonas Bendiksen

A decisive moment doesn’t always occur in the present. Stephen Mayes gives a metaphorical insight into the late Tim Hetherington’s practice, his relationship to the photographs he took, and when he chose to release them: “Tim stored his photographic moments like bottles of wine, maybe inactive for years but never forgotten, and he would dip into the cellar to turn them occasionally until the moment matured.”

And for some, the decisive moment can be a long time coming, laying down groundwork to make an image come to life at the right time. “Two weeks of time literally down to two seconds of opportunity. Worth it all, of course,” says David Alan Harvey of his image of the clubbing crowd in Ibiza. Or, as Olivia Arthur noted, on missing a bolt of lightning, sometimes “what you think you’re looking for is not always the most important element.”

In the words of Matt Black, “To me, the act of observing is what makes a moment decisive. It’s not a moment until it is seen and recorded. What is interesting to me is what happens internally that leads to that instant of clarity. A decisive image stops movement, but it also preserves thought.”

For many, the decisive moment becomes a very personal notion. As Hiroji Kubota notes of his color image of the monks at the Golden Rock, “That was my decisive moment, to become a color photographer.”

Martin Parr’s image of swimmers about to swim freezing waters yields a different meaning to the notion: “You can see here the waves were so fierce, they were experiencing their own ‘Decisive Moment’ as they pondered if they dare go into the sea or not.”

Martin Parr “This is the swimming club in Brighton, who go and swim in the sea, every day of the year, regardless of the weather (wet suits are discouraged). You can see, here, the waves were so fierce, they w (...)

Over seventy Magnum photographers and estates have given an insight into their practices through this project, which can be browsed in the slideshow above. Together, these classic and contemporary images and texts create a collective portrait of the creative relationships that define the agency.

The photographs from this project are temporarily available for purchase as signed, museum quality Magnum Square Print, exceptionally priced at just $100, from June 6th, 2016, at 9AM EST until June 10th, 2016, at 6PM EST only through the Magnum Shop.

The edition is not limited by quantity, but limited by time. All Magnum Square Prints are signed on either the front or back, depending on the photographer’s preference. Estate Stamped Prints are stamped on the back. Each photographer’s accompanying text about the image’s significance is printed on an archival label that is affixed to the back of the print.