Assignment 3: The (in)decisive moment

29th April 2021

Smell the sea and feel the sky: Strolling Down the Promenades

The Brief

Create a set of between six and ten finished images on the theme of the decisive moment. You may choose to create imagery that supports the tradition of the ‘decisive moment’ or you may choose to question or invert the concept by presenting a series of ‘indecisive’ moments.

OCA EYV (2014:

Smell the Sea and Feel the Sky: Strolling Down the Promenades

The final images

Technical

  • Camera: Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5
  • Lens: *Wide angle 7-14mm (14-28mm 35mm equivalent), *Fixed focal 20mm (40mm 35mm equivalent)
  • Mode: Aperture Priority
  • ISO: 640/ ISO 1600
  • W.B: Incandescent
  • Spot metering 
  • File type: RAW and jpg
  • Handheld

The chosen images and their individual settings

Fig. 6 Image technical notes

Contact sheets, annotated contact sheets and final selection of images

Contact Sheet 1: Original files

Contact Sheets 2: Original files annotated

Contact Sheets 3 and 4: First reduction of images

Contact Sheets 5: Final reduction of images

Reviewing the compositions

Assignment Concept

The decisive moment is the core objective of the series, ‘Strolling Down the Promenades’, and the aim is to document people moving across the upper and lower promenades of Lowestoft, Suffolk, as it would be seen from a child’s viewpoint.

Web diagram of thoughts

The Shoot

The diagram below shows the two promenades on a map and the positioning along them where I laid and sat for the shoot. The difference in the upper and lower promenade shots can be seen by the horizon lines.

Fig. 3 The above diagram: map and location of images on the route

I chose to shoot with two lenses because I could not visualise the intensity of the distortion that I required for the concept a ‘child’s viewpoint’. I decided to use the 20mm (40mm on a 35mm equivalent) and the 7mm-14mm (14mm-28mm on a 35mm equivalent).

To capture each image I had a predetermined focal area directly in front of my camera. The subject matter, ‘people’, would walk into the frame and the image shot at the decisive moment.

During the shoot I began to realise that if buggies and dog walkers walked into the dedicated area that the composition dynamics changed and with it my timing. These shots were initially trial and error as the visual results were not how I had envisaged the compositions.

Conclusion

How do I feel about the completed series? Does it satisfy the assignments objectives? Is there anything that can be improved on?

Although the shoot went well and achieved the results that I wanted, I should have revisited the locations over a longer period of time to shoot more photographs to gain a larger selection of subject matter. By varying the times of the day and night that the series would be shot, would also have shown a representation of the categories of people using the promenades at different times. This would have shown, for example, people walking and cycling to and from work and casual walkers by the sea.

The biggest learning curve for me was learning about the sun and it’s position when the shots were taken. I ask this question, ‘Should I have only shot in one direction?’ and taken into consideration the sun’s positioning. the answer is definitely yes. The subject matter when shot with the sun behind them gave less visual detail to the faces as they were in shadow.

This is exactly how Walker Evans had worked in his series, ‘Labor Anonymous’. Where he photographed his subjects walking into the sun from the right edge of his frame towards the left edge.

Although I shot people from both directions and lost detail in some, shooting people entering the frame from one direction would have been realistic. Afterall, the children who represent the concept, ‘a child’s eye view’ would see people walking into and away from the sun.


Photographers research

Due to the fact that I knew the theme that I wanted to work on for this assignment and that the location would be along the promenades of Lowestoft, I decided to research photographers that have produced work connected with people down by the sea as well as Walker Evans and Philip Lorca diCorcia who pre-focuse on people walking into their focal plane.

I also dipped in and out of the books, 100 Years of The Seaside, Seaside Photographed, Family Photography Now and looked through my postcard collection of Lowestoft, examples of which can be seen below.


Walker Evans – Labor Anonymous

That’s my idea of what a portrait ought to be, anonymous and documentary and a straightforward picture of mankind.

Walker Evans (s.d.)

In 1946 Walker Evans produced a series with the title ‘Labor Anonymous’ for Fortune a business and finance magazine which fully funded his trip and his work in Detroit.

The camera that Evans used to shoot his figures was a Rolleiflex, which,

… was designed to be used by a photographer who is not looking directly at his subject. A second advantage of this camera is its separate lens for viewing: there is no mirror to spring out of the way when the photographer presses the shutter release… With the much the smaller Rolleiflex, there is no delay after the photographer presses the shutter release, and no noise from a moving mirror, only a tiny click of the between-the-lens shutter, which would pass unnoticed on a city street. Evans habitually used short cable releases with his Rolleiflexes, so a passer-by would not even see his finger on the shutter release button.

Thompson, J.L. (2016:18)

With his camera held at waist level he made 150 exposures of the ‘labourers’ walking from right to left in front of a plywood wall. The wall provided a blank and simple background which does not deter the viewers eyes away from the figures within the photographs.

Evan’s had also considered the suns direction and because his subjects were walking towards it “the light strikes his figures in the face, modelling their features…” Thompson (2016:22).

The portraits within this series are unposed and are taking within a pre-determined area, some of the figures had noticed that they are being watched by Evan’s and look at the camera and others walk by unaware. Using the decisive-moment technique to capture his subjects required timing and unlike Henri Cartier-Bresson who conceived this concept, Evan’s did not require a background full of information, shapes, lines and rhythm. The composition is all about his subjects.

Evan’s focused in tightly on the figures cropping them from the waist and hip. This forces the viewer to study upper body language, clothes and facial expressions and individuality of the people caught by his camera.

I greatly appreciate this series of work. I find the concept and the composition of the figures within the frame exciting. This is due to the fact that I enjoy studying people and although I work in the area of street photography which includes people interacting in their environment, it is the detailed and close-up studies of people that are unaware they are being photographed that really intrigues me.

I believe the reason that I am drawn towards images like Evan’s ‘Labor Anonymous’ is that people are seen raw, their real essence which can only be witnessed when people are in their own zone and natural to themselves and the world around them.

The image below shows the final selected eleven images in the Fortune magazine.

Fig. 1 “Labor Anonymous” Fortune, November 1946, pp. 152–153

Philip-Lorca diCorcia

SERENDIPITY: The fact of finding interesting or valuable things be chance.

When in Berlin, Calcutta, Hollywood, New York, Rome and Tokyo, he would often hide lights in the pavement, which would illuminate a random subject in a special way, often isolating them from the other people in the street. His photographs would then give a sense of heightened drama to the passers-by accidental poses, unintended movements and insignificant facial expressions. Even if sometimes the subject appears to be completely detached to the world around him, diCorcia has often used the city of the subject’s name as the title of the photo, placing the passers-by back into the city’s anonymity.

All About Photo.com (s.d.)

There are two series of diCorcia’s that interest me and which also relate extremely well to the work that I am planning to complete for Assignment 3: The (in)decisive moment. These series are titled, ‘Heads’ (2000-2001) and ‘Streetwork’ (1993-1997), both documenting pedestrians in city streets. Both series work well because diCorcia uses the concept of the decisive moment. ‘The decisive moment refers to capturing an event that is ephemeral and spontaneous, where the image represents the essence of the event itself’, Sarinana (2013).

Both of the series, ‘Heads’ and ‘Streetworks’ used artificial lighting in the form of strobe flashes which were set up to synchronise with the cameras shutter. These bursts of light highlighted the heads or the figures, depending on which series we are looking at, and in doing so the subjects are seen in great detail.

In the ‘Heads’ series the subjects stand out from their surroundings due to their position within the composition and the use of the strobe flash which illuminates the heads and isolates them from their surroundings. The backgrounds to the images are pre-dominantly dark and any other pedestrian caught in the shot are either receding into the background or are out of focus.

Streetwork

For me personally it is the Streetwork series that has really given me lots of information to think about. Because the images are taken in the daylight people do not notice or pay attention when the flashes go off. Like me diCorcia does not speak to the people that he photographs, there is no interaction before, during or after the photograph has been taken. While he was on a panel for a talk hosted by the ‘Aperture Foundation in 2018’, he stated that the common dominator in street photography is that we use people.

The lighting in his busy Streetwork series highlights people in the foreground and freezes them in the moment, showing life as it is just for that second, in real terms. There is no staging in this series just the photographers eye which clicks the shutter at a chosen time within the pre-determined choice of a location. This is what makes these images so dynamic to me they show reality, unstaged, unplanned and raw, the real thing.

With the foreground people highlighted those around them, within crowds, gradually recede into the world around them which is often full of glorious city architecture, bustling with visual information ,shapes, colours and text. The rawness of the subjects caught in the image that shows a second of their life is dramatically emphasised by the flash of light on them.

The overall effect is like a scene from a film, exciting and full of energy and movement, almost three dimensional with the layers that are formed from the artificial lighting and this light also focuses on a main subject matter which the viewers eyes automatically jump to.

If we look closer at the composition, the figures look as though they are shot from chest height because the viewers eyes are drawn in just below the subjects heads, shoulder height. This perspective could also have been obtained if diCorcia used a telephoto lens. By capturing some of the subjects at this height the viewer becomes part of the crowd on the street looking on at the people in front of them.

Often the subjects have been cropped, a natural occurrence in street photography when the subjects are moving around you and this is how we would also acknowledge people if we were standing and moving with them. Only those in the distance would be seen at full height and those closest to us will have their lower body parts cut from our gaze.

The diagrams below look at a few of diCorcia’s Streetwork images in relation to composition and technique.

Fig. 1 Tokyo, 1998
Fig. 2 Tokyo, 1998

DiCorcia’s series Streetwork shows modern life and it’s people in a stylistic creative way. The addition of the flashes add a cinematic impression to the compositions. The images often have the sense of three-dimensionality which is achieved through the layers of information contained within the foreground, mid-ground and background.

Within each image diCorcia has highlighted a pre-determined area in which somebody will walk and using the decisive moment as a tool for his compositions, he chooses when to press the shutter to create his image. He captures his main subjects in full body and those around them may be caught as parts, with legs cropped off as well as other body areas. Just as our eyes do not always take in the fullness of everybody’s form within our view, neither does diCorcia’s images, therefore adding visual reality within his compositions.

Notes

ACADEMIC TALK: Tuesday Evenings at the Modern – Philip Lorca diCorcia

HEADS: Philip-Lorca DiCorcia – Exposed at Tate Modern

HEADS: Head #10 – MoMa Learning

STREETWORK: “Eyes on the Street”: Street Photography in the Twenty First Century”


Martin Parr and the decisive moment

Introduction

Parr’s photographs of new Brighton, self-published as The Last Resort in 1986, were in bright colour, and documented the fading, scruffy resort and its visitors in a way that was new to British photography. The Last Resort sparks with life and vitality as crowds of women gather around a baby, children sunbath on concrete and a young women serving in a chip shop stares at the photographer in disbelief.

Williams and Shepherdson (2019:128)
Fig. 1 New Brighton (1983-1985)

It is very interesting reading how Parr appreciated the environment of New Brighton with it’s holidaying families and day trippers, ‘if the seaside was tatty, and more than a little run-down, it was also vibrant’ (Badger 2018:6)

When Parr’s work from his series The Last Resort was shown at an exhibition in 1986 at the Serpentine gallery, London, it was met with mixed reviews some of them quite harsh. These negative reviews have not lasted time, because this series of work in the book has been ‘chosen as one of ‘1000’ Artworks to See Before You Die’ by the Guardian newspaper.

Images

I love Parr’s images in ‘The Last Resort’ because of the rich visual information within their composition. He is not faint hearted, he fills his picture plane with information, taking close up shots as though he has intimate relationships with his subjects.

One of the biggest differences between Parr’s work in the 80’s and the images I am able to take, is the change in society’s behaviour towards being photographed in public. On the one hand, with the popular hand camera on our mobile phones and the ‘selfie’ trend, taking photographs in public places of unknown people and the environment is more acceptable and most of the time not even noticed. However, using a camera which is highly visible gives the general public feelings of intrusion and sometimes of threat.

Parr has shot many a naked child, a sight we do not see anymore because of the more widely acknowledged paedophile disorder within our societies. The brilliant shot below demonstrates the difference in modesty, as here the naked child literally takes centre spot.

Fig. 2 Analysis of an image, New Brighton (1983-1985)

Analysing Parr’s compositions

Looking at Parr’s composition and subject matter has informed my planning for my idea connected with the assignment, The (in)decisive moment.

Parr is a master of the decisive moment. The composition seen above, is lively and the interaction between the subjects has been caught at just the precise moment. Within this image there are many leading lines, for example arms reaching around the frame, hand gestures, interesting body positioning and body language as well as the feeling of a family unit.

The close composition of the subjects and the leading lines are made stronger by capturing the eyes of the women looking at other subjects within the image. The sweeping arms which give specific angles, entices the viewers eye to look around the picture plane and take in the complete image.

The image below shows how Parr uses sections within some of his shots. Here the interest in his subjects are not just those that are close to the camera and fill the frame, but those subjects that appear within the mid-ground and background as well.

Fig. 3 Analysis of an image, New Brighton (1983-1985)

This image does exactly that, the composition shows groups of people within the foreground, mid-ground and background. These shots are harder to produce especially trying to get each group of people and each section to show details of interest and to balance out within the composition.

Within this image there are three figures in isolation but they make a group, to show this I have outlined the foreground grouping in pink. From here our gaze is taken upwards from the young lady in the bottom left hand corner to the boy who is focusing on his ice lolly. The viewers eyes are then taken into the mid-ground.

In the mid-ground we have two groupings of people and the perspective within the image is now very evident. On the right of the frame we have a mother and a father who are focusing on one of their children, the other with the ice lolly is in the foreground composition, so our eyes dart from the family group to their isolated son. Behind them is a father and a young child playing at the edge of the sea.

The interesting information within the composition does not end here, but it does however take a keen viewer to look beyond the focus subject matter to the horizon in the background which shows buildings, a light house and in the far left corner, many people on a brick wall and path by the sea.

This composition is very complicated and very detailed and couldn’t be planned. To capture such a natural image where the decisive moment is present in the foreground, mid-ground and background does in deed rely on a little ‘luck’. Henri Cartier-Bresson said (L’amour de court:2001) ‘It’s always luck. It’s luck that matters, you have to be receptive, that’s all. Like the relationship between things, it’s a matter of chance, that’s all. If you want it, you get nothing. Just be receptive and it happens.’ 


Rob Ball

From Blackpool to Brighton, and Barry Island to Brightlingsea, these richly-detailed photographs capture the candyfloss colours and faded nostalgia of a seaside culture that is peculiarly (yet wonderfully) British.

Hoxton Mini Press (2021)
Fig. 1 Promenade, Blackpool, 2018

“I like how seafronts have visually rich, brightly coloured signs and buildings, alongside the coffee shops and rubbish bins,” Ball says. He is committed to documenting their evolving look, he says: “Our seaside heritage is vulnerable and it’s important to record it before it changes.”

Ball (2019) cited in The Guardian

In the book’s introduction, Lucy Davies (2019) has written, ‘Everywhere you look, opportunities for mockery or misery are rife. But that’s not Ball’s style. His pictures are less about a point of view, or an event, than an observation.’ When it comes to his images of Great Yarmouth, I have to disagree.

Having purchased and looked through the images in Rob Ball’s book titled ‘Funland’ I am left with a feeling of confusion. I am not sure if it is the way that the images have been presented, in that there are images of the seaside resorts with people in them, mixed amongst images that show barren out of season views. For anyone not knowing about the seasonal differences in footfall at seaside resorts they could easily misinterpret these images as showing the decline of numbers of tourists visiting these areas.

Ball’s content within his series has given me the idea to segregate the people who will be the main subject of my assignment so that the energetic colours and details of the arcades, public houses and cafes will not be contained within the shots. The isolation of the people from a detailed background will mean that I will need to try to capture interesting body positions and language as well as details such as buggies, bags, walking sticks etc.

In the sample work below, which I have sketched from the photograph titled, ‘Torbay Road, Paignton, 2018’, I have analysed the content which I would be interested in for my assignment and the background information is not important. I have found that isolating specific people would enable the viewer’s eye to travel straight to the person. This would enable the viewer to study the human form for longer.

Fig. 2 Analysis of Torbay Road, Paignton, 2018

In the following sketch I have looked closely at groups of people within a photograph. Although their isn’t a busy background to draw the viewer’s eye away from the people in the image, I do find, for me personally, that the people are quite small and lack detail. They remind me of a L.S. Lowry painting where forms and shapes of people are important rather than facial expressions or details within clothes etc.

Fig. 3 Analysis of South Beach, Bridlington

If we look at and compare the two images below, although the clothes and activities differ because of the changes in society and what is perceived as the ‘norm’ for that time, the way the people are recorded from a high perspective from a far is the same. The distance and perspective in the image above and those below, create the sense of a large space filled with small people, as the saying goes, ‘like ants’.

The perspective used for the above images would not work as well for the decisive moment as well as images that focused in on subjects, unless there was a very obvious ‘concept’ being caught for the series.

From looking at the seaside images of Rob Ball, I now have decided on two specific visual features that my composition will use. Firstly, I will be shoot towards the sea which means the background details will not entice the viewers eyes away from the main focus of the image. Secondly, I will use close-up shots to gain as much detail as possible in my subjects as they walk past my camera.


Illustrations

Fig. 1 Evans, W. (1946) Labor Anonymous. [Magazine article/ photographs] At: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/walker-evanss-typology-of-the-american-worker (Accessed 13.05.2021)

Fig. 4 Ball, R. (2014) Viking Bay, Broadstairs, 2014. [Photograph] In: Ball, R. (2019) Funland: A visual tour of the British seaside. London: Hoxton Mini Press.

Fig. 1 diCorcia, P. (1998) Tokyo, 1998. [Photograph and diagram] At: https://www.mutualart.com/Artwork/Japan/ED213CAAA18F8546 (Accessed 08.06.21)

Fig. 2 diCorcia, P. (1998) Tokyo, 1998. [Photograph and diagram] At: http://www.artnet.com/artists/philip-lorca-dicorcia/tokyo-plate-159-a-dKv2ycyn9wQYI3LuwLpmKQ2 (Accessed 08.06.21)

Fig. 1 Parr, M. (1983-1985) New Brighton. [Photograph] In: Badger, G (Intro) Martin Parr: The Last Resort (2018) Stockport: Dewi Lewis Publishing

Fig. 2 Tomlin, D. (2021) Analysis of an image, New Brighton. (1983-1985) [Analytical diagram] with insert, Parr, M. (1983-1985) New Brighton. [Photograph] In: Badger, G. (2018) Martin Parr: The Last Resort. (6th Ed.) Stockport: Dewi Lewis Publishing

Fig. 3 Tomlin, D. (2021) Analysis of an image, New Brighton. (1983-1985) [Analytical diagram] with insert, Parr, M. (1983-1985) New Brighton. [Photograph] In: Badger, G. (2018) Martin Parr: The Last Resort. (6th Ed.) Stockport: Dewi Lewis Publishing

Fig.1 Ball, R. (2019) Promenade, Blackpool, 2018. [Photograph] At: https://www.hoxtonminipress.com/products/funland (Accessed 01.05.2021)

Fig. 2 Tomlin, D. (2021) Analysis of Torbay Road, Paignton, 2018 [Analytical diagram] with cropped insert, Ball. R. (2018) Torbay Road, Paignton. [Photograph] In: Ball, R. Funland: A visual tour of the British seaside. London: Hoxton Mini Press.

Fig. 3 Tomlin, D. (2021) Analysis of South Beach, Bridlington, 2018 [Analytical diagram] with insert, Ball. R. (2018) South Beach, Bridlington. [Photograph] In: Ball, R. Funland: A visual tour of the British seaside. London: Hoxton Mini Press.

Fig. 5 Lowry, L.S. (1943) July, The Seaside. [Oil on canvas] At: https://www.artfund.org/whats-on/exhibitions/2015/06/10/lowry-by-the-sea-exhibition (Accessed 02.05.2021)

Bibliography

Books

Badger, G (2018) Martin Parr: The Last Resort. (6th Ed.) Stockport: Dewi Lewis Publishing

Hogarth, S., McLaren, S. (2016) Family Photography Now. (Illustrated edition) London: Thames & Hudson Ltd

PA Photos (2009) 100 Years of The Seaside: Twentieth Century in Pictures. (1st Ed.) Florida: Ammonite

Prof. Williams, V., Dr. Shepherdson, K. (2019) Seaside Photographed. (1st Ed.) London: Thames & Hudson Ltd

Shore, S. (2007) The Nature of Photographs. (1st Ed.) London: Phaidon

Thompson, J. L. (2016) Walker Evans Labor: Anonymous. (1st Ed.) Germany: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, Köln

Williams and Shepherdson (2019) Seaside Photographed. (1st Ed.) London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Websites

All About Photo.com (s.d.) Philip-Lorca DiCorcia. At: https://www.all-about-photo.com/photographers/photographer/506/philip-lorca-dicorcia (Accessed 26.05.2021)

ASX (2015) Philip-Lorca diCorcia: Reflections on ‘Streetwork’ 1993-1937. At: https://americansuburbx.com/?s=Philip-Lorca+DiCorcia+ (Accessed 30.05.21)

Evans, W (s.d.) Walker Evans Quotes (s.d.) https://www.azquotes.com/author/4599-Walker_Evans (Accessed 01.05.21)

Hoxton Mini Press (2019) Funland. At: https://www.hoxtonminipress.com/products/funland

MoMa Learning (2021) Head #10. At: https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/philip-lorca-dicorcia-head-10-2002/ (Accessed 26.05.2021)

Sarinana, J. (2013) The Decisive Moment and the Brain. At: https://petapixel.com/2013/08/12/the-decisive-moment-and-the-human-brain/ (Accessed 09.05.2021)

Tselova, S. (2019) ‘Rob Ball’s Funland: British seaside towns – in pictures’ In: The Guardian 18.05.2019 At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2019/may/18/rob-balls-funland-british-seaside-towns-in-pictures (Accessed 01.05.2021)

Online video

“Eyes on the Street”: Street Photography in the Twenty First Century (2018) [Panel discussion] At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MewEwX-LZYc (Accessed 08.06.21)

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia – Exposed at Tate Modern (2010) [Documentary] At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpawWn1nXJo&t=189s (Accessed 26.05.2021)

Tuesday Evenings at the Modern – Philip Lorca diCorcia (2015) [Academic talk] At: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zs8z9DCVrYA&t=8s (Accessed 28.05.2021)

L’amour de court’ (2001) [Documentary] At: https://vimeo.com/106009378 available on (Accessed 05.05.2021)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s