The Decisive Moment

To photograph is to hold one's breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality.

It's at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.

(Henri Cartier-Bresson)

I’ve been reading Henri Cartier-Bresson's brilliant book, “The Mind’s Eye”. It’s gotten me thinking about the “decisive moment” – both in photography, and life.

Really, all of life comes down to a series of moments, some more meaningful than others. Some are so mundane and ordinary that they slip away from our memory without a second thought. Others are so poignant that we can remember every thing about that moment with such detail and accuracy, even remembering the smell and feel of it.

Some moments you don’t realize are precious without the perspective of time, such as the last time I nursed my oldest daughter. I remember it vividly, yet in the moment I didn’t know it would be our final time. If I close my eyes, I can see us cuddled in the rocking chair together, her large one year old frame not fitting quite as easily as it used to in my arms. I can still see her sweet smiles as I chatted about our day while she nursed, holding my hand and giving me sleepy glances. I’m thankful now that I have that strong memory, even though I know it’s fading over time.

In photography, we strive to press the shutter at just the right time. We look for that decisive moment when the scene is at its apex, when the motion, or emotion, or lines and subject, convene perfectly in a way that is compelling. Click a second too early, or hesitate a touch too late, and the moment, that exact moment, is gone forever. Rarely can it be re-created again, with the same authenticity.

With digital cameras, the pressure to literally click at the perfect moment is less. With memory cards that hold way too much, and shutters that can fire way too fast, it’s easy to lapse into the security that our digital tools falsely give us. Editing and culling can be where we find the decisive moment later, but in that safety net of quantity, we often are missing the simple beauty of authentic quality and spontaneity.

Life has decisive moments, too. Just like in photography where it’s all about choices that add up to the sum of your work, life is a series of choices as well. When you find yourself doubting your work, you have a choice to make – let it eat you up, or forge ahead. When you find your self lacking confidence, or questioning your value, you have a choice to make – believe in that doubt, or embrace your own worth. And in those decisive moments, you are setting the tone for who you are and what your work means.

The next time one of those decisive moments comes your way, be bold. And be kind to yourself, and to your art. Show yourself the same clear grace and honesty that you would a dear friend. Be realistic about the journey you have ahead of yourself, but celebrate where you came from. Embrace every opportunity to learn, but don't be afraid to share the knowledge you already have with others. If YOU don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect anyone else to?

Kate Densmore3 Comments