Planning and Research
When I saw the title of this assignment, ‘The Decisive Moment’, my heart sank. Obviously, this is usually associated with street photography which isn’t a genre I feel comfortable with. I don’t like the idea of taking photographs of people who are going about their business in public places; morally I feel uncomfortable about it. I also think I am the most indecisive person ever. I started thinking about other moments that were decisive when I looked at the work of another OCA student, Kate Aston, who had done some really interesting work on pregnancy tests for A3. That gave me some kind of internal permission I needed to do something different.
I looked at ‘The Mind’s Eye,’ a compilation of writings by Henri Cartier Bresson; there is a chapter titled The Decisive Moment, and the quote that goes with it is,
“There is nothing in this world without a decisive moment.” – Cardinal Retz
which seems to be where Bresson got the phrase from. My initial interpretation of that quote was that there is no moment that is not decisive, and I think that felt true to me. All moments may be equally decisive.
Because of a very strange personal experience involving an oracular dream, I was thinking about the reality of time, the human perception of it, and how these differ wildly. I came across an article in which Dr Skow, a professor at MIT, claims that we are not located at a single moment in time, but scattered through it.
“The block universe theory says you’re spread out in time, something like the way you’re spread out in space,” – Dr Skow
For me, this challenges ideas we have about meaning and the present moment. Physics already challenges notions of cause and effect. Big and small decisions I make may be equally meaningful if what I am, the essence of me, is somehow scattered through time.
I was (and still am) reading Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes. A phrase in it jumped out at me in the context of thinking about the assignment, which was,
“cameras, in short, were clocks for seeing” – Roland Barthes
But I think it was also an idea about the ‘noise of time’ that made me think about the way we talk about the past and future. When we talk about the past, we often talk in terms of sound. We use phrases like ‘the voices of the past’, ‘echoes from the past’, ‘harking back to the past’. Yet when we talk about the future, we usually talk in terms of sight. We use phrases like ‘visions of the future’, ‘seeing the future’, ‘looking to the future’, and we talk about people being farsighted or having vision when they are good at thinking about the future and coming up with new and creative ideas.
During that time I was also reading parts of Ghosts of My Life; writings on depression, hauntology and lost futures by Mark Fisher. This was following some research I’d been completing for A2. In some roundabout way that research led me to Fisher’s book and to a quote from Fisher that struck me as important. I wrote it on a post-it note and stuck it to the front of my computer; it has been there for several months.
“When the present has given up on the future, we must listen for the relics of the future in the unactivated potentials of the past.” – Mark Fisher
Perhaps part of the link here is that Fisher, certainly in the small part of his writing I have read, almost seemed like he was searching for a moment in time when this happened. That made me want to search for that moment with him, in his writing, to do something related to the culture of that moment, but I played with the idea and didn’t think I’d be able to pull enough images together to do it. I had problems envisioning exactly what the images would look like.
I wanted to find a way to represent the idea that the present is the moment that is always decisive where past and future meet in this scattered time. Because of these ideas around vision/future and sound/past, I wanted to use the images I took as a representation of the future and sound as a representation of the past. The person viewing the images is in a decisive moment.
Because of the decisions I make every day, I think I can see some things in my future. However, there can never really be a clarity to the things I see so I cannot use a focused image to represent the future. It needs to be out of focus unless I am actually representing a specific moment that is happening now. In my early 20s I got pregnant, it seemed to be a big decisive moment and I thought I could see a child in my future but I had a miscarriage. At the point I found out I was no longer pregnant, that future disappeared; it turned out it wasn’t the decisive moment I had assumed it would be.
A Rabbi once told me that there was not any spiritual significance to the predictions that were made in biblical texts as the prophets knew what was likely to happen in the future because they could see what was happening everyday at the time they were in; they simply extrapolated from that point. Prophets weren’t getting messages from God; they were simply stating the obvious. That made me think that those everyday decisions might allow a clearer vision of the future than the seemingly big decisive moments that feel important like pregnancy.
In the midst of my research and plans for this assignment, I went to my doctor because I found a lump in my breast. She found another lump and booked me an urgent appointment at the breast clinic. That seemed like quite a decisive moment, and then all the little moments following that, every single one until I got the all clear from the hospital, all felt incredibly important. So although I didn’t really want to that moment initially and it wasn’t where I was planning to go, I ended up using it because I had something to say about being in that point that feels like you are trapped between past and future. But because it’s quite personal I’m not sure if the images will be understood or make sense to anyone but me. I had wanted to use sound clips in this assignment too, but I started to run out of time to do that and I wasn’t sure that they would actually add much of value when I tried out the idea.
Now I’m on my third assignment I’m getting a clearer idea of how I work, how I plan (or don’t) and things I can do to improve next time.
I find images, I see them almost everywhere I look – I just take photographs where I find them. It makes producing a set of images difficult, because it’s hard to stick to a theme when working like that. I have to think in advance about what I’m trying to communicate and try and just happen on something that says it, and that’s proving difficult. Often when I think I’ve got a set of images I look at the result and think that it might not make sense as a set to anyone else because perhaps I am the only thing tying them together? The reason I’ve gone for monochrome in this set of images is that at least it ties them together visually. The scroll image only worked in monochrome, the others worked in colour, and there was maybe a bit more of an honesty to them like that, but because the subjects are not similar then I felt there was too much going on with the additional complications of colour.
(these are rough unfinished references)
The Minds Eye; writings on photography and photographers, a compilation of writings by Henri Cartier-Bresson (aperture)
Kate Aston EYV https://kateastoneyv.wordpress.com/2016/12/31/submission-assignment-3-the-decisive-moment/
“Joel sternfeld” “walking the high line” recommended by my tutor
I looked at the work of Susan Burnstine in Absence of Being also of Philip-Lorca DiCorcia see: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/exposed-philip-lorca-dicorcia and I have written a separate post about DiCorcia’s work ‘Heads’. Also the work of Walker Evans that I finally got to see ‘as is’ in a university library.
Why it does not have to be in focus; modern photography explained by Jackie Higgins (Thames and Hudson)
Ghosts of my life; writings on depression, hauntology and lost futures by Mark Fisher (zero books)
Behind the Image – Research in Photography Anna Fox and Natasha Caruana
Camera Lucida Roland Barthes (vintage)