The decisive moment is a phrase I've often questioned. It's a neat strapline serving to communicate the essence of street photography. It leaves no doubt what constitutes a great, or even good, street photograph.
In my own work I've played with the notion of decisive. In my world the precise moment is left to the trinity of my partners Fate, Chance and Serendipity. The results can be interpreted as lucky shots. I'd argue that my approach takes just as much presence of mind, channelling the spirit of John McEnroe as well as Eugen Herrigel.
This debate has for me been refreshed by two recent, well in the last year but time for me is a little elastic, events.
I'm not a great follower of new cameras but I couldn't ignore the buzz around a new Nikon. Let me hand over to the experts...
Smart Photo Selector (SPS) captures the perfect moment in any scene; shooting 20 full-resolution images in the time it takes you to snap a photo: you just press the shutter once and, utilising the pre and post capture technology, the camera starts to take the pictures before you’ve even fully depressed the button. Your ‘best’ five shots are saved based on facial expression, composition and focus and the ‘perfect’ shot is presented to you. Never again will you miss the very second a dog catches a ball or the joy on your child’s face while they are on a swing.
Well fancy that. Not one but 5 decisive moments. Now I'm not so old as not to know about motor drives but the concept of "pre-capture" is fascinating. Are we now about to see bodies of work of pre-decisive moments, full of nearly men and wannabe women?
Well guess what. With no suggestion that any pre-capture technology was employed a new - OK six month old - book by Paul Graham reveals sets of sequential pictures from a fixed point of view, a cascade of decisive moments each as valid as the one before...or the one after.
Rockefeller Center, 23rd April 2010, Paul Graham
The Present neatly denounces the first article of faith of street photography by referencing the stock elements of the genre: New York City sidewalks, late afternoon sunlight, office workers and panhandlers, visual puns and ironic juxtaposition. Each served up and hit to all corners of the court. It's a tour de force but executed so clinically it's more an exhibition match than championship final. Decisive moments are ten a penny here, but nonetheless still precious, their value quality not quantity.
For me the spirit of this particular deconstruction of street photography is one of renewal. It describes a way forward to a place where street photography can still be fresh, relevant and of today. Not just a homage to a golden age nor replacing the bow with a Tommy gun to make damn sure you get your shots.
This is a place where moments are still sought and celebrated but it's not 30s Paris or 60s New York. Any decision of our times is a best guess.
It's still some way in the distance for me but I think I'm on the road at least!