Submit a set of between six and eight high-quality photographic prints on the theme of the ‘decisive moment’. Street photography is the traditional subject of the decisive moment, but it doesn’t have to be. Landscape may also have a decisive moment of weather, season or time of day. A building may have a decisive moment when human activity and light combine to present a ‘peak’ visual moment.
You may choose to create imagery that supports the tradition of the ‘decisive moment’, or you may choose to question or invert the concept. Your aim isn’t to tell a story, but in order to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, whether it’s a location, an event or a particular period of time.
The Rue du Marché in the old part of Geneva is a busy shopping street with many up-market stores and, unlike the even more expensive Rue du Rhone just next door, Rue du Marché is a wide pedestrian street. If you stand in the Rue du Marché you’ll see constant motion: shoppers, trams, buses, cyclists, street performers and the list goes on.
My original idea was to try portray stillness within the busy surroundings by focusing on a relatively still subject and using a slow shutter speed to blur people in the background. After trying this out, I came to the conclusion that there was actually not very much that was stationary in the street! After some experiments with moving the camera (seen in the first few contact sheet pages), I tried panning with a moving subject and at that point, the lightbulb came on – I liked the results very much. They showed the movement I was looking for and had the advantage that the background turned into very interesting blurred, abstract shapes.
On my second visit, I tried to build on this idea by finding interesting looking backgrounds and then waiting for interesting looking subjects to appear. Once I found a background (usually something colourful and well-lit), I found that the best technique was to spot a likely subject, focus on the rough area of the street where I knew the subject would end up and just wait for them to move into the frame.
Following are my final selects for this assignment.
Contact Sheets & Selection Process
Following are the contact sheets containing the full set of photos including exposure data and an indication of my selects. The obvious observation is that I took a lot of photos (271 in all) over the three visits to the location. I found that the miss-hit ration with this panning technique was very high. For example, I usually find that about 1 in 10 of my photos are at least worth a second look. With this technique, the ratio dropped to about 1 in 20 if I was lucky. I’m was sure glad that I wasn’t using film!
I followed the selection process suggested by my tutor for assignment 2: try alternative selections, display them and live with them for a while before editing down to the 6-8 required.
I used a compact camera which I think is less intrusive in this situation where the subject is quite close. The camera was set to shutter priority mode with speed set from 0.25s to 1s. For most subjects, I found that 0.25s to 0.5 worked well. As the shots were taken during daylight, I needed to use a 3 stop neutral density filter to reduce the light levels to within the aperture range of the camera set to ISO 100. All shots were hand-held.
For the prints, I used my Epson 2880 A3+ printer with Epson Ultrachrome K3 ink and Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta paper. This is my standard setup. I find the heavyweight (315gsm) paper gives a durable and high quality result and works well for both monochrome and colour. I printed directly from Lightroom using a printer profile downloaded from the Hahnemühle website.
Relationship to “Decisive Moment”
Rather than taking a classical decisive moment approach where the motion is typically frozen, I was more interested in what I loosely call a “slice of time”. I believe this contrasts nicely with the “formal flash of time” used by Price (2015) to describe the decisive moment.
Although it took some experimentation to get there, I believe that I managed to express my original idea of showing stillness within motion. In effect, the photos show the passage of time rather than a peak moment – from that point of view, I have chosen to invert the concept and show the movement in everyday life rather than a dramatic peak.
1. Demonstration of technical and visual skills
Materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skills
I felt that I learned as I went through this assignment. That is, I tried out a number of techniques before settling on one that I liked. This evolution is clearly visible in the contact sheets. The contact sheets also show the high percentage of failures that this technique brings. I have a new respect for the advantages of a rangefinder type of camera with an optical viewfinder where there isn’t a black out when the shutter is open.
2. Quality of outcome
Content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas.
From a presentation point of view, I believe that the photos form a coherent set with enough variety to be interesting. I have used a landscape, 3:2 format to give a format consistency and use colour throughout for consistency and also to relate to the real world. When converted to monochrome, the photos lost a great deal of impact, possibly due to the loss of the subtle background toning.
I believe that my idea of a “slice of time” is communicated strongly in the selected images. I am happy that they select a subject from a background of movement and make that subject stand out in a way which shows movement, but freezes it at the same time.
3. Demonstration of creativity
Imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice
I am happy that this series expresses my original vision of showing stillness within motion. It took a couple of attempts to get there, but the results work for me. This assignment has taken me a long way from my comfort zone – it’s the first time that I’ve attempted anything like street photography and although I’ve played with the panning technique in the past, this is the first time I’ve worked with it over a period of time and used it to create a series.
Reflection, research, critical thinking
The course notes in part 3 state that there are no sure methods available to learn how to look. Cartier-Bresson said that “what matters is to look” (see here). During this assignment, I tried to work on my observational skills. In practice this meant a combination of two things. Firstly, as mentioned in the introduction, I came to the conclusion that the background, even if blurred, did play a role, so I looked for interesting backgrounds. Secondly it meant observing the flows of people in the street, looking for more “interesting” ones. After capturing many shots of people walking, I started looking for other means of getting around: bicycles, skateboards, scooters in order to give some variety.
Probably the strongest influence for this work was Maarten Vanvolsem. I even experimented with the “strip-scan” method, but decided to put it aside for another day. The movement that Vanvolsem shows (e.g. Contraction of Movement 3, 2007) is actually very similar to what I managed to achieve with a conventional camera.
Price, Derrick. (2015) ‘Documentary and Authenticity’ In: Wells, Liz (ed.) Photography: A Critical Introduction [Kindle Edition] From: Amazon.com (Accessed on 23.09.15)