Category Archives: Notes

General rough notes.

The Decisive Moment Debate

For my part I remain neutral in the Decisive Moment cliché debate.  This is not that I cannot make my mind up but more than I see both sides of the argument.  I see the decisive moment as a technique that needs to be understood and can be learnt and then applied as required.  Most pictures have a decisive moment or compositional climax it is just that Henri Cartier Bresson was the master of obsessional timing which was realised in a blink of the eye or the press of a shutter.

What I like about Bresson’s photographic skill was that he treated it like drawing albeit an instant drawing.  He saw the camera as an extension of his drawing skills and says himself in the documentary Henry Cartier Bresson The Decisive Moment (1973):

“For me photography was a means of drawing.  That’s all. An immediate sketch done with intuition and you can’t correct it.  If you have to correct it, it is the next picture.  But sometimes life is fluid and the pictures disappear” [1].

He also says

“Everything around us is in a state of constant change or evolution, new ideas or opportunities can only really manifest when the right elements converge to open the window for something to happen”[2].

He was not concerned with technique as people seem to be today.  While the subject matter was at times complex and thought provoking and a vignette of life in a single frame, he was not obsessed as it appears photographers are today with camera specifications, sharpness, millions of pixels, and post processing techniques.  In fairness this maybe the hobbyists rather than the professionals.

According to Bresson

“To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression” [3]

So while technology cannot sort out the geometry of composition or the narrative in the picture, modern cameras can now help the photographer capture a decisive point in time.  The burst facility at 6 or 7 frames per second will ensure there are a number of just slightly different images to choose from to get that right moment.  One can argue that the so called ‘spay and pray’ technique is completely at odds with Bresson’s ideals but it will ensure the image is captured.

So what is the antithesis to the decisive moment?  Putting aside what I jokingly call the indecisive moment (where I have tried to create a decisive moment but just got the timing so wrong) I would suggest William Eggleston’s democratic photography would be a great candidate.  In democratic photography all subjects are treated equal, there is beauty in the mundane, “the glorification of the trivial”[4] and in the image all element in the composition receive equal weight and nothing should dominates.  (See

Bresson’s says of his image Sifnos, Greece, in the documentary Pen, Brush and Camera (1988)[5] that he only took a few shots.  He saw the geometry of the composition and waited for someone to walk into the shot.  Firstly it was an Orthodox Priest in full regalia who past but felt that the balance of the scene was wrong. Then the child ran past and that was the image we see today.

What I thought would be interesting is compare Bresson’s final image against what Eggleston would might have done in the same situation.  In other words saw it as it was, record as is, and walk on.


The original version Sifnos Greece © Henri Cartier Bresson. (Image reproduced with the kind permission of Fondation HCB)


The adjusted version without the child

For me I like both images.  Yes we are used to the Bresson version but the one with the subject removed is just as powerful but in a different way hence my current neutrality on the subject.  It will be interesting to know how I stand in the future as my knowledge of contemporary photography develops through this course.


[1] [2] Henry Cartier Bresson The Decisive Moment (1973) International Center of Photography/Foundation HCB, Director: Cornell Capa, USA [online]  [Last viewed 27 Mar 2015]

[3] Rachel Keith(2005) Encyclopaedia of Twentieth-Century Photography, 3-Volume Set p433 Volume 1 A-F Edited, By Lynne Warren

[4] Cartier‐Bresson, H. (1952)  Decisive Moment  Simon and Schuster, New York, p. 2.

[5] Pen, Brush and Camera (1998) BBC,Director: Patricia Wheatley UK [online] [Last viewed 27 Mar 2015]


Henri Cartier Bresson: Just Plain Love (L’amour tout court)

Firstly I feel I have to get the film review over with, in that what I expected to see was not what I saw.  I expected to see a reflection by Cartier-Bresson on Cartier-Bresson.  It could be argued that exactly what was presented but what I saw rather muddling mix of reflection, anecdote, reminiscence stitched together with disjointed narration and inconsistent direction.

I understand it is difficult to demonstrate a static medium such as painting or photography in moving images.  However at least with painting you can see the artist at work and admire their technique.  With photography especially that of Cartier Bresson it is a case of looking and dissecting the final image.  Here for me in the film almost every cliché was present.  Firstly zooming in and out of the print, as if your eye were roving over the image.  But this is someone else’s eye, that of the director or cameraman and not our own.  Secondly adding sound that would associate us to the picture.  When we saw Bresson’s Indian sequence unnecessary Indian music played to reinforce the message.  We can see, and observe but documentaries do not like silence.  Therefore the void must be filled.  Finally the narration especially when describing a photo was completely at odds with Bresson.  Two narration examples are Giacometti crossing the street, and the Greek boy doing a handstand.  The narrator gets too deep and profound in the analysis of existence and the reasoning of the rationale of why Bresson took the photographs and how he felt when he did so, rather than accepting they are just masterful grab shots.

For me the most interesting of the hour was the last ten minutes of so when Bresson is looking through the prints for the book/collection.  Bresson was having none of it when the editor/curator wanted to include what Bresson thought of substandard work.  Regardless of age Bresson was not letting his standards drop.  He was still sharp in judgement.  You can see at one point Bresson showing where the subject should be and why he did not like the image selected.  As Bresson states at the beginning of the film is “What matters is to look” [1].  Clearly the editor/curator in this case had not abided by Bresson’s doctrine and is one of those people who doesn’t look.

For me the other take away is that we see Bresson as a great photographer, yet the reality is that he is a great artist who used photography for a period in his career as a medium to express his vision.  Once he tired of that or rather saw he could not move further forward with that medium he swapped to drawing.

I hoped to learn a little about when Bresson instinctively know it was time to press the shutter, but it was difficult for him to articulate that split second.  Bresson could not do it, as I would expect similar from a marksman or sniper yet all instinctively know when the time is right.

An interesting thought is that besides his skill at judging the decisive moment how much of his success was being at the right time in the development of photography as a medium.  How would Bresson fair in today’s society in this image conscious environment.  Any device these days seems to be capable of capturing an image and we are all conscious of the fact they can and that can be loaded to the internet in a matter of seconds.  My experience of when I was shooting for Assignment 2 the moment the camera was out people become wary.   They know what was going on.  Observe Bresson’s image of the crowd at Ghandi’s funeral.  He had the freedom to photograph the crowds because they did not realise what he was doing.  How different would that be today in this image obsessed world? Sadly more than likely a large percentage of the mourners would be taking pictures themselves.

I fairness I did watch the documentary a couple of times again however my views still hold.



[1] L’amour Tout Court, 2001. [film].Directed by Raphaël O’Byrne; France, Les Films à Lou [Online] [Last accessed 16 Mar 2015]



Lens Work: Depth of Field Research Point

Ansel Adams and the rest of the f/64 Group’s purpose was to promote the use of “straight” photography whereby the emphasis was on ultra-sharp images, the use of maximum depth-of-field and printing on high contrast glossy paper to accentuate the final image.  This was in direct response to the Pictorial movement’s soft focus and sometimes manipulated images artistic based images.  Therefore depth of field for Adams was not only a photographic technique but was a statement of intent of how photography should be.  This statement of intent contained in the f/64 groups manifesto effectively meant that photography would represent itself by what it can do and be standalone, and not be subject to the then thinking of aesthetics of art.  Thus for Adams the use of depth of field was far more important than just the end result we see in the image.

The following picture was taken several months before I had started the course.  I had not intended to create and Adams-esque type picture but more take some landscape pictures.  It was not until I was processing them in Lightroom did the Adams styling on this take place.  Overall I am happily as there is extreme depth of field with detail carried all the way through the depth of the image.  How I see this differently is that I was just copying the style of Adams because it was Adams style.  What I did not know at the time is that he and others, when creating their images were the photographic anti-establishment of the time and it was that which I was unknowingly actually emulating.



Kim Kirkpatrick’s technique on the other hand in his Early Work is the complete opposite of Adams. He uses a minimal depth of field to isolate objects is our everyday environment.  In doing so he uses this technique specifically and positively to highlight the object’s beauty which otherwise would have been hidden.  Buy the use of minimal depth Kirkpatrick allows us to see differently and as he says on his website “directs us to what is important”.

As an aside I tried to find out more about Kirkpatrick’s work.  As far as I can see other than his website all other web-links draw a blank, no books publications seem to exist, cannot find any exhibition details and any email bounces back.  It is a shame as I would have liked to see more of his work.

The use of minimal depth of field is not an uncommon technique and is used extensively in the genre of nature and natural history photography.  This photograph I took a couple of years ago tries to emulate that style.  While it is not the most exciting subject it does demonstrate the technique. It would be interesting to know what Kirkpatrick would have made of this subject in that would he have selected it as a subject at all.  It would suspect not.  What I have seen he would have gone for the hidden mundane rather than the glaringly obvious.  I will now rethink and reappraise whenever I use this technique again.


Thomas Ruff: jpegs

Review of Campany and Colberg

The heart of Campany’s argument is that Ruff’s work is a natural evolution of the medium of photography from analogue to digital therefore by definition from grain to pixel.  As grain was creatively used so can now the pixel.  What he highlights about Ruff’s “at times surprisingly beautiful” work is that the pixel and the image are in fact analogous to each other.  The image does not have to be created by the photographer pressing the shutter; the photographer can become an artist using an existing “found image”.

Campany goes on to argue that if the image were not digital in the first place at some point in its life it will be digitised and therefore end up as a collection of pixels regardless.  He also highlights that where grain was used to symbolise grittiness and realism pixels are uniform, grid-like and regimented, “they do not have the scattered chaos of grain” yet have a particular beauty.

Campany applauds Ruff’s technique to create visually exciting images.  He considers  that perhaps we are not yet ready to see in a pixelated way, but in the future we may well see this way of presenting reality and Ruff’s work is one small step on the way to that point.

Colberg strongly debates can Ruff’s work can be considered as photography at all.  He sees it more visual art where the base image happens to be a photograph.  In fact almost to emphasize the point he states that the photograph does not have to be of high technical quality.  It is the end visual quality that counts.

Where Colberg does have issue with Ruff’s work is that he feels it relies too much on the concept of the technique rather than the base image.  He goes on to argue that “now’s the time to move beyond form” as the concept can be likened to a thin veneer that hides the possible future direction of presenting an image in the digital age.

My Thoughts 

One could argue that a tapestry is a woven form of pixelated textile art.  The thickness of the warp and the weft thread determine the amount of ‘pixilation’.  As tapestry has been around for centuries it is accepted and we take it for granted as another cloth making method.  It is interesting to speculate that if pixel art had been around all that time then I’m sure our minds would be just as accepting of the medium.

As an experiment I created a pixilated view of a section of tapestry.  I wanted to see how it would look and to see if my pixilation theory would hold.  Albeit a very unscientific test the rustic Swiss woodland scene still hold its shape well and is still very recognisable.  It almost looks as if it just has been made with thicker thread. (Click image for full effect)


Comparing and contrasting this to the two images below show surprising results.:

The fist is of Ruff himself.  While the pixilation is quite severe we still clearly see the face of Ruff.  I would argue that we see the image because the brain fills in the missing parts of the image to create a full picture.  Take any one small part in detail and we have no idea of the total image.  Perhaps the effect here is the same as that Kanisza Triangle where the brain conforms to the Law of Closure.  ( )


The final picture I tried to see if there was a relationship between the pixel size and the size of the object.  Within the picture of Ruff above it was a large single subject.  Here in this image we can see what the overall scene is yet in this case I feel our brain cannot ‘join the dots’ as some of the individual items on display at the kiosk are only 2 or 3 pixels in size therefore have no real shape or form.

News Stand


Equivalent Equivalents

After reading the statement about Stieglitz’s Equivalents ‘there’s no sense of composition our eye is drawn to the edges, to the frame’ and with the understanding they are so abstract that they are void of any reference points I wondered if it was possible (just as a creative exercise) to create something similar. However in this case not using clouds. I chose rain as it would hopefully have the randomness and unpredictability of cloud formations.

What was interesting that although the rain fell naturally there was an inherent composition in the end result.  Was this natural or was I subconsciously trying to compose within the shapes I am not sure?

Within this image there is a hint of composition in that the line to the right where the rain drops have joined seem to give the feel of a leading line across the image.


Although taken on a flat horizontal surface there still seems to be composition as I the rain is falling from the top to the bottom.


So overall perhaps the key strength of Stieglitz’s Equivalents is in the fact that the clouds are abstract in themselves.  They are just a visual representation of vapour.  However I was trying to recreate with a physical substance, albeit the vapour has materialised as rain and come down to earth.

Regardless it was an interesting thought provoking exercise.

Cropping and Framing

In your learning log, note down what you understand by the terms ‘cropping’ and ‘framing’ and then check to see whether you’re right:

I understand cropping as an exercise to compose the picture after it has been taken (post shutter press) to remove unwanted parts from the picture to get to the final image.  This may either be in the digital darkroom, under the enlarger by having the paper smaller than the image, or even cutting/trimming a final print.

I understand framing as creating the final image within the viewfinder by placing all the elements in the right place prior to shutter press.  It is a similar effect to cropping but can be made my moving nearer the subject or zooming in but again all done before the shutter being pressed.

Taking the general definition from Wiki my definitions were on the right track

Cropping refers to the removal of the outer parts of an image to improve framing, accentuate subject matter or change aspect ratio. Depending on the application, this may be performed on a physical photograph, artwork or film footage, or achieved digitally using image editing software.

Framing is the presentation of visual elements in an image, especially the placement of the subject in relation to other objects. Framing can make an image more aesthetically pleasing and keep the viewer’s focus on the framed object(s). It can also be used as a repoussoir, to direct attention back into the scene. It can add depth to an image, and can add interest to the picture when the frame is thematically related to the object being framed.
(last accessed 10th Nov 2014)