07 Sep

The French master Henri Cartier-Bresson worked in Europe during World War II. He was well known for his devotion to the search, and the wait, for what he termed "the decisive moment": that is, the instant in which the story is revealed with one snap of the photographer's shutter. One second too early or late, and the moment is lost, or has not yet occurred.  He's reported as advising that the difference between making a good photograph and a great photograph is "where one stands", in order to properly "see" the moment. I don't know if he actually said this, but it is good advice: whether you're standing a little bit to the left or the right, or above or below, makes all the difference in the world.   Alterations of composition, timing & the play of light will change your photograph in a subtle but significant way. It is, as they say, all in the perspective: we see differently depending on our perch and how far out we crane our necks, and we might then tell a different story.

Implied in this little tip for aspiring photographers is the suggestion that our freedom to move enhances our ability to perceive, which informs our decision-making: when and how to to act. In other words, we can shift to meet the moment.  

Fast forward to Autumn, 2020, back to school ... we apprehend the moment correctly, and we perceive an unsettling scene. We don't want to see what we see, but there it is. We cannot ignore it, we don't know what to do about it, and we have to proceed with our everyday lives. And we sense a sneaky kind of danger, that dark sense of the unknown, lurking .... we really don't know what's going to happen, and we don't know where to look to get a good perspective. Where do we stand? What don't we see? What will occur? What way should we turn?

  What story do we tell ourselves? 

So ... when faced with an unclear danger, we get thrown off course. The instinct to re-balance ASAP means we might identify a threat immediately and anywhere, and keep our eyes glued for counter-attack. Problem is, if we choose a target and don't budge, refusing or unable to alter in any way, our perception will be limited.  We're going to be uneasy, suspicious … we'll get triggered by "the other" and pick fights, or assume that we're being manipulated. Even so, we'll operate under the illusion that we can protect ourselves in this way. THAT is one angry state. On the other hand, we might submit to the tendency to hide, crouch in a safe position, and wait, fearful and suspended, for the squall to pass. 

Neither state, however, is one given to fluidity, to qualities of movement, shifting and adaptation. The ability to adapt is one that, say, good swimmers and sailors (and photographers) have: to listen, look around, stay alert, remain open, make a choice, make another, go with the waves, keep it operating. Use the breath and rest when possible; go through, and over, and under, and around. Make adjustments.

I have noticed, again and again and again, that those who are able to think and act in this way are negotiating the 2020 limbo with a certain amount of grace, and balance. I'm trying to learn from them, so I can do it, too .... so I can get a clearer shot, and a better story.

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