Recently, photographer Chase Jarvis wrote this post about his implementation of the decisive moment in his photography. He talks about the less popular, off, or un-moments as being the more interesting moments, and I agree. Most of my best portraits are candids or the moments most people don’t shoot.
But something struck me as odd about Chase’s post. Though he did mention the father of the decisive moment Henri Cartier Bresson, he didn’t actually mention the term. In fact, his post seemed determined to burn his term “un-moment” into my head. I guess it worked.
What bugs me isn’t that he came up with a clever term for something that’s been around for decades. It’s that now people are going to go spout his term off without really understanding the rich history of the decisive moment.
Essentially, the decisive moment is the moment at which, based on a lot of subjective and compositional choices, the photographer decides that a given moment is the apex of the creative possibility for any given image. They take the photo at that exact moment and thereby capture the best possible image of that moment.
Chase’s point, that the more atypical moments are more emotional, is, as I said before, true. But it’s not because they’re the “better moments.” In reality, all “moments” are subjective and circumstantial. Just because an “un-moment” might be outside of the typically seen/captured moments doesn’t make it any less of a decisive moment. Those moments are better because they’re off the beaten path and therefore feel fresh and new.
So what bugs me is that, without mentioning the decisive moment at all, Chase proceeds to come up with his own term to describe what we already refer to (out of respect to a long-standing history of photographs and photographers) as the decisive moment, albeit the atypical variant. It’s not that I dislike Chase or his images, or am jealous of his success or popularity, it’s that a person in his postion has a certain obligation to respect the craft and its history and to pass that respect on to his readers/viewers. I don’t feel like it’s okay to rewrite the language without explaining the language’s history. Sounds kind of like something out of “1984” to me.
So, in short, I respect Chase for bringing photographic concepts that every photographer needs to understand to the forefront of popular discussion, but I don’t appreciate him making it sound like he came up with the idea in the first place.
If you’re looking for some really great images that emphasize the decisive moment, check out these photographers:
Sorry if I sound like a dick Chase, but honestly, I take what I do very seriously. Don’t use the history of our craft to make yourself sound cool.