HCB’s Decisive Moment Reloaded

It’s one of those topics that’s discussed to death. More cliché than truly understood, wise men throw it in casually when talking the essence of street photography. Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment”, considered to be the key element of this pioneer of modern photojournalism, influences photographers of all kinds to this day.

The world is full of little HCBs today. Who knows, and that’s up for debate, maybe today’s photographers deliver even more outstanding work. Visually, yes. But what about telling a story with a visually pleasing, single image that you can look at again and again. There aren’t many. That’s what the decisive moment is all about.

It’s always refreshing to leave one’s comfort zone to pick up a bit of inspiration. See the man’s work and hear him talk — everyone might learn a thing or two.

HCB started with drawing — and he ended with drawing. Photography always was a mean of drawing to him.

“Life is once, forever,” says HCB. Once the picture is gone, it’s gone. Life’s too fluid. Never try to stage a lost moment again. Move on to the next frame.

Come, make photography that visual pleasure. The greatest joy for HCB is geometry, a structure in his photographs, calling it “a sensuous and intellectual pleasure to have everything in its right place.”

So much more to the decisive moment than what meets the eye… Not facts are important, the point of view is. And sometimes there’s no picture. Live with it.

And hear HCB talk about portraits, the most difficult thing for him. In the end, he says, the camera can be a machine gun, a psychoanalytical couch. A warm kiss. A sketch book.

“Yes, yes, yes.” Photography, says HCB, is all about an affirmative, “Yes!”

  • and he never coined the expression “decisive moment”, nor acknowledged it, indeed reportedly seriously disliked it….