The Decisive Moment revisited
Cartier-Bresson’s image: Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare shows a snapshot of a man jumping a puddle. What is surprising is that Cartier-Bresson said that he couldn’t actually see what he was photographing as all he could do was put the camera at a hole in the fence.
Looking at this photograph, I feel the “pivotal point” is the jumping person and his reflection. The fact that the man is out of focus reinforces the movement, and it is the movement that forces the eye to return to it again and again. If Cartier-Bresson had managed to get the man in focus, then the effect would be different. The eye would not necessarily be drawn to him. It could be towards the more central figure in the background, or the railway sign. But as the only movement in this photograph is of the man jumping the puddle, the eye will always be drawn to him.
I took a series of photographs on a wet day in Oxford, one of which is shown below. I took several photographs of people walking over this puddle, but I selected this one because I cannot tell whether the person is about to step into the puddle, or skim over it. I can’t remember the detail as I took many that day, so I have to guess the outcome. I believe the foot went into the water, but I will never know…………….
Homage to other photographers
1. Diane Arbus
Diane Arbus specialised in photographing marginalized groups such as members of the LGBTQ+ community, strippers, carnival performers, nudists, dwarves, children, mothers, couples, elderly people. The photograph below taken in 1961, “Jack Dracula at a Bar”, depicts a fully tattooed man who worked as an entertainer in side shows and circuses. By photographing and published her images, she aimed to show the world that the members of these marginalised groups were no different to those in society who considered they were “normal”.
I selected this particular image because at the time it was taken body art was not considered acceptable in society, rather a curiosity to be viewed, but not indulged in in any way. Today tattoos and body piercings are becoming the norm, and many of my close friends have a least one tattoo. Furthermore, most towns or cities in the UK now have at least one tattoo parlour.
A close friend of mine was willing to be photographed, showing his tattoos. Surprisingly, when I asked him to pose, he naturally went into the same pose as Jack Dracula in Diane Arbus’s photograph without me asking him to. He had not seen Jack Dracula before that day. Coincidence?
The main difference between these two photographs is that at the time Jack Dracula was performing in side shows tattoos like his were not the norm. It was not considered “respectable” to have any tattoos, even hidden from sight. He belonged to a marginalised group, to use Diane Arbus’ view. Today, tattoos are considered acceptable, and in contrast to Jack Dracula, the model in my photograph would be considered “normal” and acceptable. The happy smile on my friend’s face shows how proud he of his tattoos, unlike the blank expression on Jack Dracula’s face. His face gives nothing away.
So the original intention of Diane Arbus’s photograph of Jack Dracula was to help normalise his appearance by taking the photograph and displaying it publicly. Onlookers may over time become used to his appearance and accept it as the norm.
2. Julia Margaret Cameron
Julia Margaret Cameron specialised in taking soft focus portraits using natural light, no studio lights, and in black and white. The first image below is one taken by Julia Margaret Cameron of her niece, Julia Jackson (mother of Virgina Wolf). The second is one of a series of photographs I took in the same genre.
I find her work inspiring because she was from a conventional Victorian family, born in India in 1815 and started taking photographs later in life – at the age of 48 when her daughter and son in law gave her a camera. This was at a time when Victorian women were engulfed in domesticity. She had her critics, who ridiculed her soft focus technique as “out of focus”. However, she ignored the critics, and eventually became a respected figure in her field. She died in 1897.
Exploring the effects of using a lens ball
The brief for this exercise suggested photographing a subject I have empathy with. The definition of empathy implies engagement with a person or persons, but I chose this subject because I think woodlands are magical places, and I feel as much empathy as if they were alive. I love seeing the seasonal changes and colours, the wildlife, the flowers, the sounds echoing though the trees. A safe haven from life. In addition, I love exploring the way objects can be distorted by viewing them through a lens ball or prism. It brings another dimension to the image, the ability to manipulate the image using the position of the lens ball as well as by changing the camera settings. This sequence of photographs was taken in Wytham Woods, a woodland owned by Oxford University and used for research purposes.
It was the first time I had used the lens ball, and was unsure how they would turn out. I spent half a day wandering around taking photographs of the trees and undergrowth to produce this series. My favourite is the first one in the series because unbeknown to me a fly had walked across in front of the lens ball as I took the shot and until I downloaded the photograph to my laptop I had no idea. The fly does serve a purpose, however, it gives perspective and an indication of the magnification of the trees viewed through the lens ball.
The second photograph was disappointing, the first one in the sequence below. I wanted to show the rainbow colours in the ball itself, and intended to have the ball out of focus with the background in focus. Unfortunately, the part of the background was also out of focus. Had I taken more time to check the photographs before I left, I could have retaken it. The eighth photograph is an improvement on the first, but still the rainbow colours are not evident.
Overall, I was pleased with the results, and have used the lens ball since on other subjects. Every image viewed through the ball is different, and only a slight move of the camera can transform the image completely. And the woodlands are still as magical whichever way they are photographed.