Friday, July 29, 2011

Does the decisive moment still exist? (Part 3) An old-fashioned irrelevant concept or a new beginning?

After exploring the definition and the limits of the decisive moment, as well as the similarities and differences between the concept of the decisive moment and the practice of street photography, it still amazes me to see how related they are. But I guess one of the main interrogations for me about this is the feeling that street photography (or even documentary photography) based on this concept of decisive moment is under-represented on galleries’ walls.
Is that true or is it just an impression? It seems that street photographs don’t belong on galleries’ walls unless they’re attached to the names of a Cartier Bresson or an Eliott Erwitt. It seems sometimes that the decisive moment was a trend that belonged to another era and that today galleries and collectors don’t recognize it anymore. We’ve seen that there are street photographers exploring the streets and corners of the world, that their prolific work invades flickr, that they have blogs, sites, forums… so there’s definitely a strong and talented young community of street photographers out there that still believes in the decisive moment. So why would they be limited to the Internet?
It also seems to me that there may be a geographic tendency to the tradition of the decisive moment with for example an under-representation in the States while it’s still a strong belief in Europe. From the UK to Greece via France and Italy, street photographers seem to wander old European cities streets with the same passion and patience as their masters… So is the influence of the masters so strong that you have to follow Cartier Bresson’s style if you are French, Winogrand or Eggleston if you’re American and Shomei Tomatsu if you’re Japanese? Just wondering…

Anyway with events such as the London street festival, or earlier this year the Format festival in Derby (also in the UK) with a program curated around the theme of street photography and also the buzz around Vivian Maier’s discovered work it seems that the awareness and interest in the genre is progressively growing among professionals. Slowly curators and galleries are catching up with this trend definitely very popular among a young public of photo lovers. So maybe soon we’ll see more street photography shows at galleries and the genre will regain its prestige?
Let’s have a look at 3 more contemporary photographers (already known or emerging) who among many others show us with their talent that street photography deserves to be called art.
Trent Parke
From contrasted black and white photographs to intense colorful street images, Australian photographer Trent Parke presents a hidden view of his country. Sometimes dark and scary, sometimes mystical or apocalyptic, his images are always hauntingly beautiful.
"I am forever chasing light. Light turns the ordinary into the magical."

AUSTRALIA. Outback Queensland. Mount Isa. Mining town. 2004.

AUSTRALIA. Sydney. No War Peace March.
More on Trent Parke:

Nick Turpin
Nick Turpin is a British photographer who has an amazing eye for catching the humorous coincidences of the streets. But his images are not just funny; they are also snapshots of today’s Britain, picturing the British economical situation, British society with all its contrasts. Entertaining but also engaging he takes street photography to a level of not only contemplation but what we could call social anthropology of the streets. 
More on Nick Turpin: and
Ying Tang
I mentioned IPA, the Invisible Photographer of Asia earlier and they definitely deserve our attention. Photography is big in Asia, street photography seems to be a very popular practice throughout the continent and the idea of the decisive moment is never far away. If you’re in Singapore, you should check their street photo exhibition from 8th August to 8th of October:
So to represent Asian street photography, I choose Ying Wang. First of course, she is a very prolific and of course talented young Chinese photographer. She is a traveler and has wandered through the streets of Asia, Europe and San Francisco. And yes, she is a woman. For I don’t know which reason it often seems that street photography is a masculine practice. As Martin Parr said, Street photography is "obsession, dedication and balls". Well she is proof that women street photographers can have balls! And I’d like to believe that the femininity, the sensibility and state of mind of a woman street photographer brings something new and unique to street photography that men don’t get… maybe something about the sweetness, the tenderness, the glamour, the fragility of street life…
More on Ying Tang: and

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Does the decisive moment still exist? (Part 2) - Decisive moment, Street photography and Internet

A Holy Grail for many photographers, the decisive moment is part of many series and stories. The quest for this unique moment, which can transform a common picture into an amazing image seems to be very often associated to a certain category of photography: street photography.
Street photography is mostly defined as photography taken in any public space featuring people’s interactions with the streets as a décor. And it’s true that what good street photographers have in common is their ability to spot the unusual in everyday life and to capture this so-called decisive moment.
But I believe there is more to the decisive moment than just Street photography. And of course there is more to Street photography than just this concept of decisive moment. The decisive moment can apply to any type of photography, from documentary, travel, candid or humanist photography. All images in a story cannot be a series of decisive moments and of course it’s not the only criteria to define a good photograph but definitely it is one.
So what is it really about?
It’s about telling a story in a single frame, about trying to catch a series of elements working together in harmony. But isn’t it also about trying to capture this incredible penetrating look, this funny expression, this unusual shadow, this unique ray of light? 
And what is street photography really about?
It's a state of mind. It's an immersion within the atmosphere of the streets, it's the ability to become invisible and capture the natural life of the streets. It's playing with forms and light, it's reaction, anticipation, interaction with the environment and the people that define it. It's a puzzle, a dance, a joke, a fight, a choreography, a poem, a symphony!

So after my tribute to the amazing Alex Webb, let’s have a glance at its extended diversity on the web today, and especially at how it applies to Street photography.
From groups of amateur street photographers on flickr to the websites of associated international Streephers (street photographers), from traditional black and white to Martin Parr-like colors, from humorous street coincidences to the snapshot aesthetic, it seems that the Decisive Moment is far from dead – Long live the decisive Moment!
If you’d like to explore the genre, here is a few great examples (mostly found on Flickr) and a non-exhaustive selection of street photography groups and sites:

Cairo's ragpickers, Emmanuel Smague

Smokers on the beach - Aden Yemen, Maciej Dakowicz

Eddy Avenue, Central. 2002, Andrew Stark aka Nowhere Man

Rainy days, Rui Palha

F*ck you, Charlie Kirk aka twocutedogs

Audition, David Gibson
Petros Kotzabasis

Flickr groups (curated):
HCSP (Hardcore Street Photography) :
Extreme Street Photography (ESP):
SECONDS2REAL street photography :

Street photographers sites :

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Does the Decisive Moment still exist?

Henri Cartier-Bresson with his decisive moment concept has given one rule for street photography that has defined the aesthetic of street images for many photographers over the years. As many photo lovers and photographers I fell in love with photography because of him and I still consider him as one of the masters (The Master?) of contemporary photography. The decisive moment as he described it is the time where ‘everything is summed up in the supreme moment when form briefly takes on its essential meaning’. A good image has to be a straight and honest photograph where timing, form and content come together to reach perfection.
While the idea influenced many photographers, others, such as Paul Graham or William Eggleston have also totally rejected it. Today, particularly in America, it seems that the trend is to focus more on the forms of urban landscapes and the city itself and forget about the idea of a unique decisive moment. The idea that the photographer had to capture the perfect detail of urban life has somehow been replaced by the idea that a good photograph, and even street photograph can be accidental and any moment can create a good photograph. It can just be a random, banal, spontaneous snapshot that reveals the movement and chaos of modern urban life. 
But I guess both concepts are in fact not far away from each other. The decisive moment might not be unique, but actually part of a series of decisive moments. However, what makes it unique is the fact that the photographer decided to press on the shutter at that particular moment – be it subconsciously, after waiting for it to happen, by accident, by luck, by instinct… Once the scene is captured on an image, it becomes that famous decisive moment image, right?
Anyway here is proof that the decisive moment still exists today and that as long as photography exists, photographers around the world will still be searching for that decisive moment that makes an image so unique and incredible, somehow magical…
Alex Webb
I recently acquired ‘The Suffering of Light, Thirty years of Photographs’ by Alex Webb and that book presenting Alex Webb’s magical photography is one of the perfect examples of Cartier-Bresson’s heritage. But by adding color, Alex Webb took it one step further. In each photograph not only the form and the content come together to perfection but also the light and the colors create this mysterious harmony out of chaos. At that particular moment it seems like the world had stopped for a second or two just to give Alex Webb the time to take his picture.
In the afterword, Geoff Dyer qualifies Alex Webb’s images as ‘complicated’ and ‘exhausting to look at’ even quoting a student of Alex Webb describing them as ‘migraine photographs’. And indeed, when you look at any of his images you don’t know where to start. The image seems to play with your mind and your sense of reality. In every corner you discover a new surprise, in every shadow a different scene takes place, on every face a new expression, in every gesture a new symbol… and everything seems to come together in an artificial and almost spiritual collage created by this decisive moment just before it breaks…
You will have understood my admiration for Alex Webb’s work. I strongly recommend this masterpiece - on amazon: or (even better) go and buy it at your local book store:
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 1980
Etroits, La Gonave, Haiti, 1986
Plant City, Florida, 1989
Barcelona, Spain, 1992
Manaus, Brazil, 1993
Sancti Spiritus, Cuba 1993
Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, 1996
  More images from Alex Webb:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Homage to the Bay area. HERE at Pier 24, San Francisco.

The new exhibition at Pier 24 in San Francisco is all about the Bay area. Inspiration to many photographers over the years, it’s also a daily inspiration to everyone who has the chance to live there or should I say here.
I moved to San Francisco 6 months ago and this exhibition summarizes everything I love about living here. The Bay area is that kind of place in the world which you can fall in love with. Of course there is something in its scenery that makes it magical: maybe the shape of its hills, the cold wind from the Pacific Ocean, the meanderings of the Bay, the dance between the fog and the sun, the endless bridges…
One thing and the opposite in the same sentence. But it’s not only about the scenery, yes the landscape is beautiful and everyday I still discover something that amazes me, but there is something in the air that makes it so unique. Welcoming, stress free, creative, multicultural, vibrant but also intriguing, dark and dramatic. It’s a place of contrasts, despair, energy and hope.
And that’s exactly what this exhibition is about. Local or visiting photographers have succeeded in interpreting the unique character of the land and the people of the Bay area. The photographs you experience when visiting the fantastic venue that is Pier 24 reminded me once again why I decided to move here!
So here is a small selection which definitely doesn’t give justice to the entire show but should offer a preview of the richness and diversity of the fantastic collection displayed (from amazing photographers such as Richard Misrach, Jim Goldberg, Todd Hido, Larry Sultan, and many more…) The organization of the rooms is fantastic, photographs of all shapes and formats follow each other and remind you not only of the power of photography but also of the incredible experience it is to be able to enjoy it printed and displayed on walls.
So if you haven’t visited it yet, register now at:
Richard Misrach
Richard Misrach
Richard Misrach
Larry Sultan
Jim Goldberg
Jim Goldberg
Chancey Hare
Edward Weston
Todd Hido
Todd Hido
Pier 24

Friday, July 1, 2011

Along the French roads… (Part 3)

Raymond Depardon’s France shows the villages and landscapes of our sweet childhood, but of course his vision is only partial and incomplete. France is not just an old country with small “bar-tabacs” and closed local post offices. France is a lot more than that.  So let’s follow some additional contemporary photographers to discover something else…
Let’s explore the multitude of faces of a changing country, lets it surprise our selves. Let’s travel through its cities, its frontiers, coast, suburbs and discover its beauty and its scars…
France 14
The perfect follow up to Raymond Depardon’s France is to look into the work of the young generation of photographers from the France 14 project he initiated and which was exhibited last year in Arles (
Here is a video (in French again…) presenting the 14 photographers and their 14 projects:
Of course I cannot present them all here, so I decided to focus only on the work of Cyrus Cornut as he takes us through a journey in the hidden parts of the country…
Cyrus Cornut
Voyage en peripherie, les petits enfants du sciecle’ : Travel in the outskirts, the children of the century
For this project Cyrus Cornut decided to explore a France no one wants to show, a France we often forget unless sad or violent events put it in the news. It’s a new face of France built quickly and irrationally, but home to thousands of people. Fragile or even frightening (because we tend to be scared by what we don’t know) it’s the face of a France that is used to express most of the evils of today’s French society. But when we look closely at Cyrus Cornut’s images, we see also life, beauty and hope.
Cité de la Saussaie, Saint Denis.
Les Presles, Epinay sur Seine 2008. FRANCE
Chateaux d'eau, Villejuif, France 2008.
Les Choux, Créteil 2009. FRANCE
Cité Pablo Picasso, dites les tours nuages. Nanterre, France 2010.
  More images and more projects by Cyrus Cornut on:
Harry Gruyaert
‘Rivages’ (shorelines) is an exploration project by Magnum photographer Harry Guyaert. It’s a journey along the coasts, along the French costs and much further. But France has a particular place in Harry Gruyaert’s heart and project. We discover here a poetic, elegant country where the subtle colors and dreamy composition create a enigmatic landscape where we’d like to lose our minds and drift along.
FRANCE. Aquitaine region. Pyrenees-Atlantiques departement. Town of Biarritz. 2000.
FRANCE. Picardie region. Somme departement. Town of Le Crotoy, on the mouth of the Somme, seen from the village of Hourdel. Baie de Somme. 1991.
FRANCE. Picardy region. Bay of the Somme River. 1991.
FRANCE. Picardie region. Somme departement. Baie de Somme. Cap Hornu. 1991.
FRANCE. Nord-Pas-de-Calais region. Pas-de-Calais departement. Berck beach. 2007.
  More on Harry Gruyaert:
And a beautiful video about Rivages:
Patrizia Di Fiore
Patrizia Di Fiore was born in Italy but moved to France when she was 20 years old. She travels a lot but her approach doesn’t belong to the classic documentary style. She uses a medium format camera and tries to capture the atmosphere, the colors and sensations of the landscapes she crosses. In her photographs we feel escape, loneliness, the silence of the journey, we feel contemplation and the meditation of the road. Through her camera she reveals again another one of France’s multiple characters…
Pyrénées Atlantiques
Pyrénées Atlantiques
Pyrénées Atlantiques
Autour de Rouen
Autour de Rouen
More on Patrizia Di Fiore:
And if you want to discover more photographs of French landscapes, I recommend that you have a look at the website of the Transphotographiques festival, organized every year in May/June in Lille, North of