Decisive Moment


"Actually, I am not at all interested in the photograph itself. The only thing I want is to capture a fraction of a second of realtiy." - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Untitled, Madrid, Spain, 1933.











"To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event." - Henri Cartier Bresson
The Decisive Moment = that instant when the formal spatial relationships of the subjects reveal their essential meaning
  • The moment that expresses the essence of a situation
  • The instant that real life becomes artful
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Behind the Gare St. Lazare, Paris, 1932.











previsualiztion = ability to see one's finished print before exposure


Edward Weston, Nude, 1926.
Edward Weston, Cabbage Leaf, 1931.











Banana Plant

Imogen Cunningham, Banana Plant, c. 1929.











Imogen Cunningham, Two Calle, 1929.
Imogen Cunningham, Frida Kahlo, 1931.











Ansel Adams, Thunderstorm, Yosemite, 1945.





















Weston with view camera, 1937

view from a view camera
View camera












Group f/64 approach:
  • Sought greatest depth of field with smallest lens aperture
  • Sharp focus
  • Close-up views
  • Large-view format camera
  • Contact prints instead of enlarging
Ansel Adams, Rose on Driftwood, 1933.











Edward Weston, Excusado, 1925.


Weston described this photo as revealing "the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself"











Edward Weston, Nude, 1936.










"I could wait no longer to print them - my new peppers, so I put aside several orders, and yesterday afternoon had an exciting time with seven new negatives.

First I printed my favorite, the one made last Saturday, just as the light was failing - quickly made, but with a week's previous effort back of my immediate, unhesitating decision. A week?  Yes, on this certain pepper, but twenty-eight years of effort, starting with a youth on a farm in Michigan, armed with a no. 2 Bull's Eye [Kodak] have gone into the making of this pepper, which I consider a peak of acheivement.

It is a classic, completely satisfying - a pepper - but more than a pepper: abstract, in that it is completely outside subject matter... this new pepper takes one beyond the world we know in the conscious mind."

- Edward Weston from his Daybook 1930

Edward Weston, Pepper #30, 1930.










Zone System = aide for determining correct exposure and development times
11 different zones
Zone O = maximum black
Zone X = pure white
Imogen Cunningham, The Unmade Bed, 1957.











Ansel Adams, Grand Canyon from South Rim, 1941.











Ansel Adams, Snow Covered Mountains, 1940s.











Life Magazine
1936 - 2007

Life Magazine- first cover

Wanted to publish new magazine that would:
  • Tell newsworthy stories
  • Promote mainstream American values
  • Was a pleasure to look at
  • Eloquently combined pictures and text to convey its messages
Margaret Bourke-White, Fort Peck Dam, Montana, First issue of Life magazine, November 23, 1936.










Margaret Bourke-White, Fort Peck Dam, Montana, 1936.
Margaret Bourke-White, Niagra Falls Power Company, 1928.











Life Magazine aimed to humanize politics through photography
  • Vivid images that spontaneously captured poignant moments
  • Large-size format
  • Printed on coated stock for a glossy sheen











Luce's concept: "Pictures and words would be partners… The camera would act as interpreter, recording what modern industrial civilization is, how it looks, how it meshes."
- Margaret Bourke W

Life magazine layout for the photo essay, Nurse Midwife, 1951.











Photojournalism = particular form of journalism that creates images in order to tell a news story

Oscar Graubner, Margaret Bourke-White atop the Chrysler Building, c. 1930.
Margaret Bourke-White, Chrysler Building, 1931.











Margaret Bourke-White, Louisville Flood Victims, 1937.











Margaret Bourke-White, Self-Portrait, 1943.











Margaret Bourke-White, Buchenwald, 1945.











Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dessau, Gestapo Informer, 1945.









Gordon Parks, Ella Watson (American Gothic), 1942.











American Gothic

Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930.











Gordon Parks, Ella Watson and her Grandchildren, 1942.











“I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs.
I knew at that point I had to have a camera.” Gordon Parks
Gordon Parks, Malcolm X, 1963.

Gordon Parks, Harlem Gang Leader, 1948.











Gordon Parks, Drugstore Cowboys, 1955.










Harold E. Edgerton, Milk Coronet, 1936.


1/1,000,000 of a second











Harold E. Edgerton, Tennis Player, 1938.










Harold E. Edgerton, Antique Gun Firing, 1936.











Stroboscopic Photography

  • Replaced shutters of ordinary cameras with electrical illumination:
  • Camera shutter always open in completely dark room
  • Exposure made when quick flash exposed negative
Harold Edgerton, Card being shot, 1964.











Harold E. Edgerton, Fanning Cards, 1940.











Harold E. Edgerton, Atomic bomb detonation near Joshua tree, 7 miles from ground zero.


Edgerton's Rapatronic camera










Photographer Unknown, US Marines Holding Mushroom Cloud, 1952.











Weegee, Onlookers, 1936.











Weegee, Coney Island Crowd, 1940.











Weegee, Drunks, c. 1940.











Weegee, The Critic (Opening Night at the Opera), 1943.





















Weegee, Movie Theatre Kiss, c. 1940. Infrared film.