“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” That’s a quote attributed to Orsen Welles speaking in the context of filmmaking. A rewording in the affirmative sense would be, “The ally of art is the presence of limitations.”
At the end of 2015, Instagram moved away from its square-only emphasis, and began displaying landscape and portrait modes as well. Up until that point, users had to rely on third-party apps that essentially let you add white borders to the top and bottom or left and right in order to fit landscape and portrait formatted photos into the app’s square presentation.
One reason Steph Curry can do those things: he sees the play before it transpires. The game moves in slow motion for the great ones.Jim Barnett, Warriors Broadcaster
A couple months ago, I wrote about the key to capturing the Decisive Moment: anticipation. The key to snapping it isn’t seeing and reacting (as that’s usually too late), it’s sensing when it’s about to happen.
As handed down by street photography forefather Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Decisive Moment is the precise time and place street shooters hope to uncover and capture. The street is a public stage, with passersby as the actors stepping into its sun-lit spotlight. However, for most who walk through it, both as participants and unconscious witnesses, the curtain is still closed.
As street photographers, it is our role to pull back this veil, inviting an audience to see the drama unfolding—not by scripting and performing it, but by framing and freezing it.
Last week, I found the 1973 Henri Cartier-Bresson documentary, “The Decisive Moment.” It features not only many of his most famous photos, but also his commentary as voice over. As a canonized Master of street photography and co-founder of Magnum, of course he could shoot. But, wow, can he talk a good game too! Upon watching the film on YouTube, I couldn’t help but pause to type out some of his impassioned viewpoints.
In 1952, the Frenchman Henri Cartier-Bresson—street photography pioneer and perhaps its most influential master—published his book Images à la sauvette. Loosely translated, it means “images on the run.”
The book’s English edition title was alternatively chosen as The Decisive Moment, thereby giving street photography its most definitive and well-known catch phrase. That phrase, co-opted by Cartier-Bresson, was originally inspired by the 17th century Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal de Retz, who wrote, “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.” The book stands alongside Robert Frank’s The Americans as arguably the two most essential and important works in street photography, if not photography in general.
Since this is the first in what I intend to be a recurring series, I’ll begin with a general introduction. After discovering the street photography genre in 2015, my new year’s resolution for 2016 was to dedicate myself to its learning and practice; basically, to shoot and to study.
For the latter, that meant finding current street photographers to follow on Instagram, watching how-to videos on YouTube, and Googling to research The Greats of the past.
Past performance doesn’t predict future outcomes. Perhaps for mutual funds, sure. But when determining whether to hit that blue follow button on Instagram, it’s basically all you’ve got to go by. And now, more than ever, there’s a wealth of street photographers on the app using it as their primary means of sharing their work.