The Waiting. Los Angeles, 2015. Leica M240. 21mm Elmarit, Pre-ASPH
The Decisive Day.
Here’s my thought on street photography’s oft-used phrase, The Decisive Moment. It’s not a moment, it’s a day.
It’s the day you decide, I’m going to go do photography. It’s the day you prioritize shooting people over other things. Photography takes you away. You need to go hang. Sometimes all day. Or somehow manage the day so that it takes you where you need to be. On the street.
The idea that there’s a single moment is belied by the fact that photographers shoot a LOT. And from a lot of angles. This shot, it’s one of 10 shots of this woman. I walked in front of her, the side of her, the back of her. Back seemed right and I shot up, down, high and low. That’s typical. Sure, it feels like you’re walking by and, snap, you just got that. It’s not like that. And, honestly, I could have done better with more time. But look at any photographer’s contact sheets and you’ll see. A, they shot a ton of film. And B, why were they even there?
This shot began the day before, when we made a plan to head downtown for breakfast. The family knows when we head downtown, I’m going to do a little bit of walking around. They walk ahead and talk, go get ice cream, do their own exploring or shooting. They support my habit. They know, it’s this or I go kinda crazy. I need imagery. I need it in high doses. And then I’m fine. I don’t know why. They don’t know why. It’s just part of life. Some guys have crazy business ideas or work in the shed. I don’t watch TV or drink, I just do this.
You get a bunch of shots and you choose one. It looks like a moment because it was one. People are doing weird stuff all the time. You just put yourself among them enough and the shots come. People use the term “decisive moment” because of how it sounds. And it reminds us of big game cats who pounce on smaller animals. Some kind of conquest. The idea that we have that power sounds like a top of the food chain attribute. Feels alpha. It’s actually just a skill, like any other. Plan for it, do it enough days, hone it and you can do it, too. But it’s not easy. There’s a ton to learn and practice. Like tennis. You can get the ball over the net, but that’s really just the beginning. Do you really want to learn photography’s net game? I know it’s not for everyone. The most common thing I hear from people is, “I don’t have the patience for that.” Patience pays off though.
The great thing I find about it is that this shot is all mine. That’s why I do it. Nobody else will have taken this shot. Is it good? I don’t know, there’s something there. But it happened and I got it, in all its unique and unpredictable glory. It’s real, I know that. That’s the thing about studio photography and models - it’s a commodity because, like all commercial things, it needs to be predictable, fast, controllable and replicable. On the street, you get to claim something. But you have no idea what it’s going to be, or when or if. Sometimes I get nothing. But more often than not, when I look at a shot I like that I did, it was a decisive day in the making.