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


  1. I do believe that decisive moment still exists: you can be lucky once or twice and take good pictures. You still need to be a bit lucky for the best pictures, but you need heart, eye and experience to be in the right place and in the possible right time to keep on taking nice pictures. A wide and consistent body of good work is a proof that you can see the decisive moment.

    It is sad when sometime some urban landscape phographers or fans of this genre (as I am indeed) are snooty about street photographers: it sounds like the fable of the fox that cannot reach the grapes and says 'I am not hungry anymore'.

  2. Hi Nico, thanks for your comments. Interesting conversations about this were going on a few days ago on facebook and google+. Let me know if you'd like to join...