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Street Photography and The Decisive Moment

You are observing, feeling and connecting to everything that is going on around you. Only when we are in-tune with the flow of nature, can we hope to capture The Decisive Moment.

What can street photography and The Decisive Moment teach us about life, meditation and the flow of nature?

Well let’s start of by building an understanding of what street photography actually is.

Street photography and photojournalism are quite different. Photojournalism is about documenting an event, freezing a moment in time for it to be remembered, noticed, even studied as part of history.

Street photography is about storytelling, evoking emotion and feeling. Rather than capturing a situation to be observed, you are trying to create a window into the moment, allowing the observer not just to see what is going on but to feel it, to understand it, to connect with it.

So how to create something that allows the audience into the photo? We can plan, can change angle, find the right light, find the right scene, get the right composition, wait; but to capture the right moment, is something different entirely.

Many people would argue, that it comes down to The Decisive Moment: the capturing of a seemingly spontaneous and ephemeral moment, where the image represents the essence of the event itself, and uses certain photography techniques, to visually sew together the harmony that we see in the world.

The Decisive Moment is a term popularized by the work of photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, so it is only fitting we first explore his understanding of the phrase:

“It’s a fraction of a second, it’s an instinct. It’s a question of awareness, a question of sensitivity. It’s beautiful when you feel that your body is working, full of air, in contact with nature.”

What I love about Cartier-Bresson’s understanding of The Decisive Moment is its relationship with the flow of nature. It takes photography deeper; to be able to capture a moment of serendipity you not only have to be in the right place at the right time but you need to be tuned into the very essence of what is going on around you. Being present, being in the moment. Cartier-Besson goes on to explain:

“Life is very fluid, sometimes a picture disappears and there is nothing you can do. You can’t tell the person, please smile again, do that gesture again. Life is once, forever.”

Life is continually moving, flowing and changing. Mediation is one tool we can use to slow down and try to connect to this flow of nature, but street photography is also something we can do to help us be in tune with the fluidity of life.

While wandering the streets in search of capturing an interesting scene, event or character the feeling can be quite similar that of walking meditation. The purpose of walking meditation is often to try and connect yourself to the nature surrounding you: while walking through a forest you are trying to bring in and connect to the energy of your surroundings. The process of street photography is much the same. You are not simply walking through the streets with a destination or a task to do; you are observing, feeling and connecting to everything that is going on around you. Only when we are in-tune with the flow of nature, can we hope to capture The Decisive Moment.

Let us finish this discussion with a quote from another street photographer, Fan Ho:

“Truly good photographs are not taken with the camera, they come from inside you: your eyes, your brain, your heart. Not some cold piece of equipment.”

Street photography is not about the camera, the equipment or the lens. It is about you and your relationship and connection to what is going on around you. By practicing street photography and The Decisive Moment, it can help us be more aware of our surroundings, enable us to experience the present moment, and allow us to tap into the flow of nature.

Fan Ho:

Marc Riboud

Henri Cartier-Bresson

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