The (More or Less) Decisive Moments explores the meaning of the famous “decisive moment” on contemporary and classic photography and the ways in which the decisive moment is manifest in the work of Magnum photographers today.
Photoworks looks at four photographers from the Magnum Photos rosta as part of our Ideas Series ‘What are you looking at?’
Magnum Photos co-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson is synonymous with the idea of ‘the decisive moment’, a critical idea in the theory and history of photography. In this Square Print Project the agency looks back at the impact and legacy of Cartier-Bresson, his influence on contemporary photography and the ways in which the decisive moment is manifest in the work of Magnum photographers today.
For five days only, prints by Magnum photographers which respond to the meaning of the decisive moment, will be available to buy as signed, museum quality, 6×6” square prints, exceptionally priced at just $100. Including both classic and contemporary photography, over 60 works by Martin Parr, Alex Webb, René Burri, Elliott Erwitt, Tim Hetherington, Newsha Tavakolian, Peter van Agtmael, Eve Arnold and many more Magnum photographers will be available for a limited time only.
About The Decisive Moment
The notion of the decisive moment was coined by Cartier-Bresson’s English language publisher Simon & Schuster in 1952, translating the French title of the book, Images à la Sauvette. Cartier-Bresson annotated Martin Parr’s personal copy to read ‘The More or Less Decisive Moment(s)’, hinting at the plurality and ambiguity of its meaning.
Every photographer within Magnum Photos has been invited to select an image from their archive and to reflect upon how the photographic concept of the decisive moment influences their practice. Accompanied by personal written responses, these images and texts create a collective portrait of the critical thinking that defines the agency.
The works included in the Square Print sale are intended to spark debate around the meaning of the decisive moment. What goes through a photographer’s mind when capturing a shot? What are the moral or ethical implications in the quest to find the decisive moment? What part does the unconscious play? Is the realisation of a decisive moment always in the present, or can that come later? Is there even such a thing as the decisive moment?
“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 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.
There are many photographs of mine that have ‘taken’ me. I chose Havana, 1993
because Cuba, then, seemed suspended in time, echoing the feel of the Spanish
streets in the 1930s that Cartier-Bresson photographed so memorably. I suspect that
the Cartier-Bresson I knew would have been skeptical of the color of this homage to
him— but I’d like to think his younger, surrealistic self would have at least
appreciated the two boys in the background with that soccer ball hovering overhead,
out of reach forever.”
“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 were experiencing their own ‘Decisive Moment’ as they
pondered if they dare go into the sea or not. They did eventually sneak in, but a long
leisurely dip was not on the cards that particular day.”
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. It took
me seeing it once to know what I should do. At first I thought I should get in the mess, which I did. I got some
nice pictures there but I thought getting above it would be better to get the feeling of mass hedonism or like Dante’s
Inferno. It took some permission getting to get up into the lighting rig in the ceiling of the club. In the end
I shot literally one Kodachrome film frame that looks like this. The club lights flashed multiple colors at random and
only this one had the feel and tone I wanted. Two weeks of time literally down to two seconds of opportunity. Worth it all, of course.”
“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. 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.”
Magnum Photos was founded in Paris in 1947 as an artists’ co-operative by four pioneering photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, David “Chim” Seymour, and George Rodger, The legendary photo agency continues to shape photographic practice and maintains its original values of uncompromising excellence, truth, respect and independence, representing an idiosyncratic mix of journalist, artist and storyteller. Magnum photographers share a vision to chronicle world events, people, places and culture with a powerful narrative that defies convention, shatters the status quo, redefines history and transforms lives.
From the outset, Magnum Photos pioneered an experimental and entrepreneurial approach to the creation of photography as both art and journalistic tool. Next year, Magnum Photos will celebrate its 70th anniversary. Ahead of this significant milestone, the agency will embark on a number of new initiatives, including the launch of an innovative publishing platform; fulfilling our ambition to deeply connect the Magnum audience to our photographers and our
Signed or estate stamped prints for $100 from over 60 photographers and artists will be available for a limited time, from 9am EST on Monday 6 June until 11pm Friday 10 June 2016, here: shop.magnumphotos.com