Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cartier-Bresson never played with fire.

Red Stripes

Like I told my last wife, I says, "Honey, I never drive faster than I can see. Besides that, it's all in the reflexes."

Jack Burton, Big Trouble in Little China

Yes. I'm watching Big Trouble in Little China tonight. I love this movie. It's an 80's classic. I bring it up because of a scene in the movie where Jack and Wang Chi have bet each other that Wang Chi can't split a bottle in two with a large knife. Wang Chi hits the bottle. It, of course, does not split in twain, instead rocketing towards Jack's head. The hand being quicker than the eye, shoots up and snags the bottle before clocking him in the face.

Why do I bring this up?

I've been thinking about Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment and trying to better understand sensing or predicting the moment where the photo is "right". I tell you, I've shot more losers than winners trying to figure this out. Losing photos that is, not loser people. Anyway, this idea of capturing the decisive moment is difficult to grasp. It's difficult to know what exactly this idea really means. There's a group on Flickr to cover some of this. I spent some time reading through the discussions, as well as going back through some of Cartier-Bresson's books to glean some useful information.

Heh. "Useful information". There is none. All the talk I've found doesn't make up for the act of doing. I'm beginning to think it's like pornography ... you'll know it when you see it. And not one second before. Ironic, isn't it ... understanding what the decisive moment should be requires knowing when the decisive moment occurs.

Cartier-Bresson is quoted in a 1957 Washington Post article, saying, "Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever."

You see. Intuition. You need that. And that only comes over time as you take crap photo after crap photo. At least, that's what it appears to my finely untrained eye. It's like trying to drive down the road, blindfolded, while steering a northerly course by the sensation of the road turtles under your tires. Bumpbumpbumpbumpbump. Get good enough at it, and you'll be able to judge not only distance and speed, but direction just from the sheer force of the ripple in your shocks.

But, back to Cartier-Bresson. He had years to develop this idea. I imagine he took his fair share of crap photos while slowly charting his course towards the decisive moment.

When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Jack?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail."

Jack Burton Big Trouble in Little China

Yes. I'm sure Henri paid his dues and that's why he understood what it meant to feel his way towards a better photograph. Intuition. A gut check. Using the force. Whatever you want to call the alignment of the planetary photogenesis (hey, I don't know what that means, it sounded good ... go with it). It ends up manifesting in a tiny, imperceptible muscle twitch that impregnates the image upon our photographic medium of choice right before the moment divests itself from our very sight.

And what do you know. Sometimes it's even a great photo.

The woman above is a local fire spinner in Austin. This was the first time I saw her spin. Very hypnotic. I've gotten to the point where I want to photograph something different with fire. Something I haven't seen or tried to see before. Here, she's up on a stage, replete with a large white background. You'd never know it from the photo, but 'tis true. She's kneeling on the stage, arching back towards the screen, twirling the fire ever closer to her face in between her stripped arms. If the music hadn't been loud, you would have heard the crackling get louder and softer, each time the poi flipped around closer to you. Woosh. Woosh. Woosh. Lovely fire. Lovely photo. Lovely woman. And this is me dancing with that decisive moment.

I think it worked.

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