Journey in a new land : the decisive moment in photography : tableau vivant of reality photographs

Publication Type:
Thesis
Issue Date:
2009
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NO FULL TEXT AVAILABLE. This thesis contains 3rd party copyright material. ---- My research and creative project critically re-examine the photographic theory first put forward by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson in the early 1930s. In brief this theory held that the photographer was an observer who acted without interrupting the subject or physically altering the scene being photographed. The photographer simply waited for a decisive moment to reveal itself to the photographer who then captured, and reported upon, this instant in time. As a photographer myself, I. too, have used this strategy for some years now, using a telephoto lens to gain a distanced perspective of simple fleeting but unique events. Much of the work I have undertaken over the last decade has taken me around the world to places such as Iceland, Egypt, China and Cambodia, where the small details of local life seem strange to me upon first sight. While cultural differences place me behind the camera at a further distance from my subjects, at the same time this distance allows for a certain critical observation of the various ways that people interact with each other and their environment. My research project has produced a body of photographic work that takes a new position on The Decisive Moment in the light of recent practice and theoretical work produced since Cartier-Bresson first coined the term. As a way of shedding further critical light on The Decisive Moment I have decided to focus on the work of Robert Capa and Charlie White, both of whom come at The Decisive Moment from radically different directions. Another critical tool I will employ to reappraise The Decisive Moment is the staging method called the tableau vivant. My creative project is constructed from images taken on a journey in a new land (for me at least), that of Australia. Through observation of people in ordinary and sometimes unfamiliar situations that seem to have a heightened strangeness for me as the observer, I aimed to show that The Decisive Moment is a cultural construction that then rhetorically operates in semiotic terms as a myth. The Decisive Moment is also teased out as a metaphor, as a metonymic condensation of time, and a signifier of the unseen, forgotten or overlooked. This creative project titled Tableau Vivant of Reality was made up of a gallery exhibition at the University of Technology Sydney. The majority of images were taken in Sydney where I was living at the time. This research project contributes to the field of contemporary photographic theory and practice in Australia and also Taiwan. This is an original study and is the first to focus on The Decisive Moment as a Modernist photographic strategy in a postmodern context. This research project brings together a number of critical enquiries and questions surrounding The Decisive Moment trope. Is the photographer a naive traveller who looks at another culture with fresh eyes? To what degree is the noninterventionist stance of the photographer a passport to revealing something unknown, forgotten or hidden from normal view? Does The Decisive Moment help us to understand more fully notions of place and time through the capture of still moments? In a postmodern and post-structuralist context (loss of the subject, objective truth and grand narratives) what role can The Decisive Moment play in contemporary photography? For me, The Decisive Moment is an anatomic analysis and it is at the core of photography. Essentially, The Decisive Moment can bond ideology to photography and provokes deep individual photographic ardour, a fervour based on ‘past perfect'. The past perfect is as Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl terms it, ‘inner time consciousness’. Till now, The Decisive Moment is still blurred, a myth, it is ambiguous, a cliché rather than a paradigm, as Cartier-Bresson explained it, though I doubt if people and photographers really understand it or whether it just becomes a shield against critical arrows. For me, The Decisive Moment is the centre of the whole universe of photography and is a construction in terms of cultural and social construction. Cartier-Bresson put geometry before story-telling and made The Decisive Moment surrealist from my point of view. Robert Capa utilized his decisive moment to record life and death. Charlie White employs tableau vivant to depict his concept, which is a postmodern strategy. In spite of different styles and genres of The Decisive Moment, Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and Charlie White are all embodiments of tableau vivant. The Decisive Moment of Cartier-Bresson and Capa is a symbol, which metonymically refers to daily life and Charlie White's is an allegory which is additive. All three can be traced back to Renaissance painting but using different strategies. My research anatomizes and elucidates The Decisive Moment. Above all, my creative project is a product of, and deeply bound to, this research.
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