‘The decisive moment’ is killing photography

The fallacy around ‘The decisive moment’ is killing photography. Focusing on the one perfect photograph. The image that captures it all. A photograph that not only says a thousand words but a narrative too is in truth, a unicorn, a fallacy, a dream. So why is the decisive moment killing photography?

We live in an age of instant, same-day delivery, now now now. Everybody wants fame, fortune and recognition as soon as possible. We all want to get that Pulitzer Prize image, capture that one image that lunches our career. But the truth about that fraze all photographers know ‘The decisive moment’ that we relate to Henri Cartier-Bresson. He never said those words, those famous words where just the title of his book. And is book was a series of images, not a single one, but a collection. A body of work showed in a sequence taken of a large period of time.

Focusing on making one great image is something advertisement and portraiture should focus on. Instagram is a great example, getting that one great image is something a walking billiard should strive for. So they can sell you products. Lets no sugar coat what an influencer is, they are just the human embodiment of a walking billboard or ad. If that is what you want your career to evolve around there is nothing wrong with that. Just stop lying to yourself and others that your work has meaning outside of selling products.

The other fact that the decisive moment is ruining photography is the photo essay is being forgotten. The photo book is no longer in the spotlight. I have recently come to the realisation that I myself and a decisive moment photographer, a one image pony. I can’t tell stories, I don’t have a body of work that follows a narrative. And I am ashamed and saddened by this. 

This realisation that a single image can be powerful is true, but the series of images can tell a story fare better. Taking the viewer along a narrative can be much stronger. When I looked back at the masters of old many of the greats did this. The original storytelling platform, the book. The photo-book is a medium that is now super accessible to everyone. There are online companies that will print and bind your own photography book or zine to your heart’s content. Something I myself am now working towards.

So is ‘The decisive moment’ killing photography… no. But it is taken over the spotlight for now. One image can be a powerful thing, I’m not denying that. But young photographers should not turn their backs on a series of images to also tell a narrative. Think Robert Frank, Mary Ellen Mark, Ralph Gibson or Alec Sloth to name only a few. Never forget the masters for the current trends and mainstream spotlight. Because I know I forgot, and I’m ashamed, but with new realisation, I have redirected my focus… towards what is important to me, telling stories. 

What’s important to you? Why do you take images? Who are they for? And where do you want them to end up in the end? A book, a gallery wall, or a social media feed?

1 Comment

  1. i agree and i think the approach is also pivotal. in my opinion (for i am no professional by any means), the photographer as storyteller sets out to photograph with a story or project in mind. perhaps it's possible to be enlightened with a story/project idea during the time we fumble about taking shots, but my stories work out better if i plan ahead. the "one image pony" --as you say-- approaches differently because they are looking for that one shot, whether it's for the billboard or the art gallery, right? and i agree with you that's it's about whatever you want as a photographer, and i like you, strive for the story or the project. your posts are thoughtful and a pleasure to read. thank you!

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