I reviewed the photograph Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, which we looked at in Part 3 of The Decisive Moment. I have always thought that this scene was staged and there was no actual decisive moment other than when he decided to capture the leap in the air across an infinitesimal pool of water and at what depth does he leap into blindly?
There seems to be no one single pivotal point. It’s more a case of a sequence of events which your eye leads you across the page from left to right. Perhaps the fascination with this photo is that there are more questions than there are answers.
Why is he there? He appears smartly dressed unlike the shadowy figure in the distance and the littered scene with rubble and detritus such as the metal ‘c’ shapes and the wooden ladder laying in the water. The eye is drawn to elements such as the leaping man; the heel of the shoe almost skipping the water, the ripples in the water from the movement of the leap and his reflection and that of the fence and man in the background and the dancer in the sign but you are drawn back to the man leaping.
Clearly, HCB has captured a moment in time that is clear. How he got there remains a mystery. The story is there in the form of the movement of objects that the male stood on just prior to his leap of faith.
I have looked again at HCB’s iconic photo in my copy of The Decisive Moment, which is helpfully in quite a large format and therefore easier to “read” than on a computer screen. Is there a single pivotal point? For me, no, but there a limited number that continually draw my eye back in: the leaping man; the near contact of his heel with its reflection in the water; the ripples indicating the mover of the ladder like structure from which the man has just leapt; the “c” shape towards the bottom of the frame that seems to point to the man’s reflection, which in turn draws attention back to the man himself.(Chéroux, Cartier-Bresson and Chéroux, 2014)
Each, I think contains information that relates to the story, or stories, that the image is purporting to tell, different parts of the story that go to make up the whole. Leaving aside my scepticism about the way HCB says this image was made and my concerns about the Decisive Moment, it is as a story that I read this picture. Although it freezes one particular instant in time, the moment just before the leaping man comes back to earth, there is clearly a suggestion of a narrative. The ripples in the water show that the ladder has just moved, presumably as the man leapt off it, so we know that he has moved across the view from left to right. The sequence of events is about to continue in that direction and out of the frame with the moment when his foot reconnects first with the water and then, presumably, more solid ground beneath. It looks as if he is going to get a wet foot! How many more times is he going to have to stride out again before reaching dry ground? Is his other foot going to get as wet?
I suppose my overall response to this photo is that while I am intrigued by it and find it both refreshing and interesting to look at it again, fundamentally I do not believe it or trust it as any sort of truth. However, as is the case with many of my favourite paintings and other photos, generally it is neither the presence nor absence of a believable story that interests me but the image itself and what it contains on its own terms, as little more than a fragment in time.
I not entirely sure how Sugimoto Theatre Series fits with Kawauchi into the decisive moment or how this bears resemblance to HCB’s photograph. There is really only one comparison that I could make is that: “Too much information ends up as nothingness.”
Perhaps, Sugimoto photographed the entire film from beginning to end because there was so much information the concept has always perplexed me. To eliminate all the information to the point that you cannot see a pivotal seems a bit pointless. (Theaters, no date)
Kawauchi has to some extent repeated it and either painting with light and over exposed the flower, which has lost essential information and I am not sure what the story is. The usual presentation of her work it two photographs side by side in book format and maybe that’s why I cannot understand the story or its meaning alone. (Rinko Kawauchi | Works, no date)
Is there a pivotal point? Again, I do not see anything other than perhaps a shadow within the flower. It doesn’t appear to be pivotal, to which my eye returns, although intriguing.
HCB, may or may not have staged his perfect shot who knows but at least all the ingredients are there and whichever pivotal point you decide you keep going back in a kind of endless loop and perhaps there where the appeal is?
An example of my own work where it has elements of Kawauchi is my current Assignment, assignment 5. I am working on a project entitled ‘Fatal’. The pivotal point is where the head and tail lights abruptly stop adjacent to stone monument on a busy road. The location and point in time frozen is where two people were killed in a car on New Year’s Eve.
If I had continued to expose the scene and prolong the length of exposure, then the trails would have merged, and the pivotal point would be lost;like Sugimoto it would become one blur of red and white and the meaning and story lost.
Chéroux, C., Cartier-Bresson, H. and Chéroux, C. (2014) A bible for photographers. Translated by F. Destribats. Göttingen: Steidl (The decisive moment, photography by Henri Cartier-Bresson ; [Begleitheft]).
Rinko Kawauchi | Works(no date) Rinko Kawauchi. Available at: http://rinkokawauchi.com/en/works/(Accessed: 9 July 2018).
Theaters(no date) Hiroshi Sugimoto. Available at: https://www.sugimotohiroshi.com/new-page-7/(Accessed: 9 July 2018).