Defining the “decisive moment”. Cartier-Bresson saw himself

Defining street photography is inappropriate to its nonuniform nature.  In an attempt to do so, however, I think that street photography is taking unplanned, and unposed photographs of people in a public place capturing a moment which tells a story and a fragment of the truth behind that story. The photographer takes pictures of people passing by, searching for that specific moment in time where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. One of the best things we can appreciate from street photography is that it captures human emotions, such as facial expressions and people in their everyday life activities. But street photography doesn’t always have people on them. Sometimes we just have public places been photographed and documented like we saw with most of Atget’s work.  It is often confused with photojournalism because, in a way, both are documenting moments in time. We often see this in the work of one of the most influential street photographers of all time, Henri Cartier-Bresson. He suggested to always be on the lookout of the “decisive moment”. Cartier-Bresson saw himself as a photojournalist yet he has been one the most influential street photographers.  He integrates the lines of the streets, curves, shadows, etc., and uses it to his advantage in order to make them part of the central picture. To capture the “decisive moment” he sometimes had to visualize it before it happened, but other times he would have to be patient to find it. Regardless, the only pictures he stuck with had to be perfect. Every element on his images were methodological (people, background, composition and framing).  When you look at most of his pictures, people (subjects) don’t seem to realize they are being shot at until after the first picture has taken place. For example, when he took the first picture, through a whole on the wall, of the kids playing, they didn’t notice him. But soon after, on his next pictures, they get closer to him and you can see a different side to the kids.  They seem shy, timid yet curious of what he was doing. Another great photographer who kept his distance from his subjects was Lee Friedlander.  When we saw him in class, I didn’t really get his style. However, over time, I have begun to appreciate and understand his vision a little more. One of the things I could not understand at first was why he would incorporate lots of content in to just one photograph. But now, I understand that everything on his frame has its purpose.  He was very aware of what he was doing and how he framed the scene. Friedlander wanted to have more complexity to his shots by adding different elements.  As I go over his pictures again, I find myself taking my time to not just understand but to acknowledge everything within the frame. This is exactly what he wants the viewer to do. He want us, the viewers, to appreciate everything in the photograph and to also appreciate it in real life. While these two photographers chose to stay distant from their subjects, we have others that would get so close to their subjects, that they would invade their subject’s personal space for a brief second to capture the image. A great example of this is Bruce Gilden. While doing some research, I was able to watch a video of Gilden out on the streets working (taking pictures). His work was very honest and straightforward. He used to spend his time on the streets interacting and communicating with his subjects. He has a strong and aggressive approach when taking his image. He takes pictures at a really close range, from extremely low angles and giving his flash different angles for his shots, capturing dramatic and very expressive shots of his subjects.  His unusual composition of shooting from a low angle, makes his subjects look bigger than what they are. His shots are dark, chaotic and his subjects are rarely in the middle of the frame. The next photographer influenced not only Bruce Gilden but also one of our recent discussed in class photographers, Diane Arbus.  Her name is Lisette Model. She was Diane Arbus’ teacher and close friend.  She was also interested in the less welcomed by society. As Diane Arbus used to called them: “freaks”.  Similar to Gilden’s work, Model’s images are full of unexpected expressions of their subjects, which makes them interesting to look at.  Her work was edgy, close range, low angle, with the use of flash and of very dynamic shots. Her photographs are dark, some blurry, some she focused to peoples legs and others, she would take pictures at windows to capture her subjects’ reflection.  She was fascinated by the people which society would shut out and she felt she needed to share with the world that they were more than just weird and different. She saw them as fun people to be around and she felt that normal people were just boring to keep spending time photographing them.  I personally don’t love her work but feel that it is necessary to have people like her and Diane Arbus that feel passionate about those who the world doesn’t pay attention to or marginalize because of how they look. I feel like everyone in this world should be considered special and amazing regardless of how they look. Another great example of candid street photography is Garry Winogrand. Winogrand had a different approach to taking pictures. He was certainly aggressive in his approach to his subjects, but he would also take not one but a few pictures to make sure he captured what he envisioned. He wouldn’t hesitate to take his shots especially if he was feeling the moment. Sometimes it would seem he was a bit obsessed with taking too many shots of the same but it is what made his style different and great. If we compared him to Cartier-Bresson, he was not looking for that “decisive moment” but Winogrand just ended up having some due to his multiple shots. What also makes his photographs amazing was how he was able to capture life from his close range, tilted images. His close range images were blurry and he would purposely cut off his subject’s body capturing the unexpected moments that show life as it was.The next photographer had a little bit of both styles. She wasn’t afraid to get up close and personal with her subjects but she would often keep her distance from them too.  Her name is Vivian Maier.  What makes her different from these other photographers is that she never had the intention of showing her work to the world.  She took pictures for herself. It wasn’t till after she died that her work was noticed by a man named John Maloof.  Nobody really knows what her intentions were behind her work but while looking at her pictures, I think she was just going out and documenting the world that surrounded her. Like Atget, she wanted to document her life and the places she visited to keep as cherished memories. She also took lots of self portraits which are the ones that I admire the most. They are simple yet very creative,  humorous and clever. She would take photographs of her shadow (similar to Lee Friedlander), through reflections in mirrors, or reflections in the water and at the same time she would integrate different elements in one frame. I can’t end this paper without discussing André Kertész. While doing my research, I stumbled upon his work and loved it.  He was of big influence to Henri Cartier-Bresson and Brassai. He was one of the earliest photographers to acknowledge and embrace photography as an aesthetic medium. One of the things I love about his work was how he took images from a higher view point (position).  The vast majority of the photographers take pictures from ground level but by taking his pictures from a higher vantage point, it showed a different perspective on how we can visualize street photography. It definitely attracts the viewer’s eye. His work was beautifully composed based on geometric figures and others as abstracts images. He would angle his subjects accordingly to the light to capture better shadow tonalities. He was always experimenting on different equipment, approaches and techniques.  When he took pictures in the streets he integrated different forms and shapes into the background to give a touch of elegance to his subjects and at the same time, give meaning to everything on frame. Everything he did had purpose, emotion and passion behind it and is the reason why his photographs were so beautifully composed. 

In conclusion, street photography has not only captured appearances, expressions and people’s’ daily activities but it has also captured their stories, how things used to be and how people used to dress and have fun. Street photography captures a fragment or instant of truth, but when you gather all the pictures taken throughout history, it kind of gives you a whole truth and a perspective on reality which you cannot deny. It has captured the history and evolution of the world. Although street photography is an amazing art form, it is also a powerful tool that serves as a reminder of what people are really like and a way of learning of how the world used to be and how we could use it in our advantage to change the future and be better than our predecessors.  The one thing I learned from Vivian Maier is that is not important to impress others but to do what you want to do and impress yourself, which is more important than anything else in life. The rest will come by itself.

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