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Part of being able to capture the decisive moment is practice.

Cartier- Bresson was highly skilled in finding geometry in everyday shots and so although contrasting to the surrealist movement cubism is also present within Cartier-Bresson's work.

Multiple decisive moments – and all the more exciting because they were real.

In my conversations with Dick Zakia in the weeks before his death, I think he summed it up beautifully: “More and more I am beginning to think that the photos that have taken on a life of their own must have the qualities of the decisive moment.”


I suspect Cartier-Bresson would say no.

Have they successfully depicted a decisive moment?

[And just as obviously, given the year of his essay, he was not talking about some poor soul trying to digitally manufacture a great moment after the fact in PhotoShop.] What he was talking about was only one type of shooting: call it journalism, documentary photography, spot news photography, interpretative or environmental portraiture – even snapshooting.

Overview of Lesson Plan: In this lesson, students will learn about Henri Cartier-Bresson’s life and photographic work. After learning about Mr. Cartier-Bresson’s famous “decisive moment,” students will reflect their understanding of decisive moments through photos they capture from their surroundings.

As Cartier-Bresson stated, “You shouldn’t overshoot.

After all, Cartier-Bresson himself did once compare even the cameras of his time to a machine gun.

Is it any accident that when he was an active photographer Cartier-Bresson had a Leica with him at all times, or that the late Garry Winogrand, another superb documentarian, burned so much film during his too-short life that when he died he left behind an unbelievable 2500 rolls of film that he had shot and not developed?

Extension Activities:
1. Write a short story or poem about the images in one of the Cartier-Bresson photographs from the slideshow, or another Cartier-Bresson photograph (from a book or Web site) that interests you. If the photograph is of a historical event, incorporate factual information into your narrative. If the photograph is not of a specific event, imagine what the subject(s) of the photograph are thinking, what they might have been doing before or what they might have done after the photograph was shot, etc.
2. Learn about the life and career of another Magnum photographer (such as Robert Capa, George Rodger or David Seymour). Write a tribute to one of these photographer’s lives, using the article from class as a model.
3. Create a “Web of Influence” with Henri Cartier-Bresson at the center. Extending out from the center, include the names of the various historical events or important people Cartier-Bresson witnessed or met, and a brief description of these events’ or people’s significance in history. Include relevant photographs taken by Cartier-Bresson where possible.

Is some cropping OK, despite Cartier-Bressons’s restrictions about his own photos?
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Skills in Capturing the Decisive Moment

For example, it’s not easy to verify “a dynamic interplay of objective fact with subjective interpretation that arouses meaning and emotion about the human condition.”

Although I have attempted in this article to identify the specific psychological elements of the decisive moment, it is very much an artistic, philosophical, and poetic concept that’s not easy to pin down in any specific way.

Henri Cartier-Bresson - Wikipedia

A variety of quotes from Cartier-Bresson point to this selfless, meditative state of mind that culminates in the DM:

“It is a way of shooting, of freeing oneself, not of proving or asserting one's own originality.

Henri Cartier-Bresson's Glimpse of India



Photographers who talk about the decisive moment often describe their experiences in ways that strongly resemble these ideas about mindfulness.

The Decisive Moment — Fraction Magazine

The photographer’s body posture fits physically, visually and perhaps even conceptually with the DM, as in Cartier-Bresson peering through the fence to capture The Puddle.

Photography and time: decoding the decisive moment | …

However, Cartier-Bresson himself hinted at this idea when he made such statements as: ““I kept walking the streets, high-strung, and eager to snap scenes of convincing reality” … and … “The creative act lasts but a brief moment, a lightning instant of give-and-take, just long enough for you to level the camera and to trap the fleeting prey in your little box.” As I mentioned earlier in this article, Susan Sontag similarly described how photography entails the aggressive aspects of the hunt.

Henri-Cartier Bresson by Isobel Woolley on Prezi

As Cartier-Bresson said, “I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us.” The Puddle is not simply a photo of a man leaping over water, nor a capture of larger symbolic representations of the human condition, but also a realization of Cartier-Bresson’s own life – at some level, no doubt, a realization of what it must have meant to him to escape from a Nazi POW camp.

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