The Decisive Moment
How many people haven’t written about him or his phrase? Every photographer encounters the reality of the trade, that in dealing with light, we are dealing with time. I’m talking about Henri Cartier-Bresson and what he called “the decisive moment”. There is this scene – a juxtaposition of elements which the photographer is a part of. The scene moves, the photographer readies, clicks. That moment of decision when the light of the scene — the moment — reaches the photographer who is clicking even before the brain says the scene has arrived. Two seconds and it’s gone. That decisive moment when circumstance, preparation and intuition meet.
I’ve encountered a thousand such moments. As it happens, I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t have the energy to bother being prepared. I was in a rush. I had the wrong settings. I blurred what shouldn’t have been blurred. I steadied what should have been blurred.
Worse than these, my presence ruined the moment. Something about the quantum physics of the camera or my stare throws the system into distortion. The only fortunate thing I have going for me in such a situation is that my camera happens to be my phone, an unassuming, thin, hand-held device that can sneak a shot at people unnoticed. After all, I’m like everyone else, just playing video games on it, right?
I am getting into the habit though. Having the camera ready is a necessity these days. I pay attention to the light and its moods. There is no regret at missing a moment. I am certain now that opportunities will come again. They happen in droves! And every time, there is this excitement at catching that decisive moment, rare as it is for me, that makes it worth the thousand dull shots I’ve captured in between. Even better, catching the decisive moment with my eye alone — set the camera aside Jacob — is as prized as the photograph.