August 7th, 2017 … Memory or The Decisive Moment

Sorry about being absent for a while and I know youse all need my stuff in your head. Well, here’s something. I been reflecting on my self for a while and the past few weeks really getting critical. See, I have this nice mirror in my office and I sit and look into it for a spell and reflect.

No, not that self indulgent kind of reflecting. The important kind. The kind that says, dude, ya need to lose a few pounds. So I started to think about the importance photographs have for us as shooters and the motives and intent for making them and the end result of the photos life.  Probably the most important purpose for a photo is the making of a memory. This in itself is an oxymoron to the intent of photography. If a photo is a 2 dimensional image, then it should be viewed as it’s own reality. The reality of the photograph. This concept was initialized and taught by Stieglitz.  He was the one conscious of the phenomenon of photography and the one whom discovered the true nature of a photograph. The idea was that when a photo is viewed it should stand on it’s own merit and not need the crutch of the reality it was captured from. This has been passed down from generation to generation of shooters.

The idea of titling a photo supports the crutch of reality and serves to destroy or shatter the illusion of the image. We see a photo of a person and it’s titled, “Grandma, New York 1936.” The title supports the memory but what about the innate existence of photography? If we practice that a photo needs only itself to be recognized as itself, what then about Grandma? What about this memory thing? Does this mean that photos really are not what they appear to be? Does it mean the the concrete illusion of a photo being on it’s own in our reality is not a truth at all?

Stieglitz said that photos were the truth of the moment. Bresson coined the phrase, “The Decisive Moment”.  I lived my life adopting these truths and practicing them and teaching them. So why now at 67yo do I question the basis of a life in photography and stumble uon the very essence of my belief system? Perhaps I am not. Perhaps it’s an awakening of a dormant concept that is now coming to life and trying to create a new path.

I tend to believe that this memory thing is inherit in all of us. Photographs are not an island of tranquility at all. They rock the very foundation of their own existence. Street photography as important and loving as it is, is also the antithesis of memory. When I work the streets, I am not thinking about memories. I am thinking and feeling …. what?    Damn, ain’t the the $64,000.00  question.


I have learned and taught that the photograph exist due to the shooter making it. End result, Fine Art, whatever ya  wanna call it. No not a pretentious intent and result. We look at our work and try to feel and see the reason for making it. It’s not a lost soul, it’s just photography. The real idea is that we had another reason for clicking the shutter than the memory of the moment.

The division between intent is where the problem lies (correct spelling), if there is a problem. If we make a photo and memory is a secondary intent, then post it on Flickr or any place at all and get responses, that serves to justify the  intent and process to get the photo there. While you are looking at the photo, the phone rings and you are told that Grandma has passed away. Well, let me tell ya something, you will be looking for photos of her quickly. It’s the memory of her and the experience you shared making the photo that you long for.

I will continue this in a few days. I’m interested in reading your thoughts if you care to share.

shooter out………………………………………………………………….


11 thoughts on “August 7th, 2017 … Memory or The Decisive Moment”

  1. Great write Don. When I’m out, I think about a lot of things, memories, past, and the present. Here and now. I let those things sing and at some pint they are done and I am empty, ready to receive whatever there may be. In the end, what may be, is reflective, a mirror, a window to where I am in the moment.

    Glad you’re back!

  2. Hey Don, it’s Pete. I was talking to a pal of mine today as it happens, death and memories. How people are unable to throw things away when someone dies… though you are throwing them away, insulting their memory. I take a different view. Once the person has gone, the table they sat at, the chair they sat in, the mug they used to drink from, the curtains they pulled to let in the day, the radio they listened to; they all lose their meaning. The house they lived in is now just a box, devoid of the essence of the one who lived in it. The personality that gave things substance has gone… the items themselves have also gone. It is all in the memory, the brain…….. and the heart. When you think of the person your heart gives a blip! But, a photo? I sometimes look and see …..feel even, the atmosphere, the intensity or I am instantly transported to an aroma or a taste from that time. I hear things….I see things behind my eyes that take me back. Photo’s can be a catalyst for talking to others when long ago events; almost forgotten, are dredged up from the depths of consciousness. Sometimes I dream about a photo I have seen and I wake up laughing, crying…..or even singing. An interesting piece Don……one that caused reflection from here across the other side of the pond. Bless you!

    1. Pete, thanks my friend. I’m 67yo now and my Dad died when I was 6yo. I have a few, just a few photos of him and a few cherished memories. I have a photo of Dad and Mom that was made for his Mom, my grandmother. I look at this photo and see a young couple. Him back from the Navy in WWII and her next to her loving man. I FEEL them and I feel the future they would make and me the first born son. Then a sadness grows quickly within me and I am overcome with a feeling of grief I can almost bare. The prospect of no memories is something many younger people support. Some of those I taught feel that the lack of memories keeps a clean vision for the present.

      Maybe I agree with that. Well until the passing of a loved one and then realizing that there exist no real good photos of that person.

  3. Hello!

    Memory or The Decisive Moment? I would say just Moment (without Decisive). But, there is something else… For me this question sounds a bit differently… I’m amateur (beginner) street photographer. I was involved in street photography several months ago. So, I don’t have much experience. But what I like about street photography is Moment. And that Moment is something very special to me. There is a russian song which has roughly such words: there is *only* jiffy (moment) between past and future, and that moment *is* life. So, I understand these words in the way that life is not years but only one moment which we could experience right now… Well, back to the initial question. As I told, the question sounds to me a bit differently… It sounds like: time or timeless? IMHO, memory relates to time, but moment is timeless. And… this is quite exciting (magical) experience to me to have experience which is timeless, i.e. which doesn’t relate to time.

    1. Andrey, thanks. Ya know, that Moment thing, well there is a Decisive Moment. What makes it different from the Moment is that when a photographer releases the shutter, it becomes the Decisive Moment. It’s the commitment to the intent at the moment. I am writing a follow up to my post and would like to hear your thoughts my friend.


  4. Hey Don. lost my 1st wife Liz at the age of 39 to the curse of breast cancer. My kids were 14 and 10 (son/daughter). The lids were brought up in our house, she died in the house. When I moved to begin another relationship and eventual marriage I just pulled the door shut and handed the keys to the agent. The house was empty, completely devoid of anything to do with our lives there. It was a box of boxes with windows. Even now…if I drive past I barely glance at it. But memories, oh boy memories. Good ones, bad ones……a joy or an affliction. I am sure I suffered PTSD after she died. I surpassed it for years before I broke down and sought help. If I look into our wedding album, or other shots….I can drill down into the shot and remember that day like it was yesterday. Sights, sounds, smells, The photos act as a catalyst for the memories I think. Part of the ingredients. Without the shared memories they mean less. Keep going mate, long life and happiness.

    1. Pete, thanks. First off, there is no cure for PTSD, there is only management. See, the mind and heart store memories and then when something happens, they recall the person or whatever. This supports the PTSD but doesn’t rid it from us. As you stated so elegantly, a photo is just a catalyst for memories. I’m writing a follow up post as I write this.
      Thanks my friend

  5. Don, a well thought out posting. And so good to see you posting again – along with some great images. My dad liked photography so I have lots of photos and slides
    that I can look back on of my childhood and family. And whenever I drive by my childhood house in Minneapolis a wave of memories hits me. But as Pete said – that house
    is now just a shell – what made that house a home is gone. Oh well, take care out there and look forward to your next post and photos.

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