Decisive Moment, Decisive Edit

Blog Author Richard Newman 

Well, times have changed. Renowned photographer and founder of Magnum Photos, Henri Cartier-Bresson talked much about “the decisive moment.” I can’t describe it any better than he did in the introduction to his 1952 book, "The Decisive Moment":

"To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression."

You may read more here.

Imagine the photographer waiting for all the elements of the composition to come together and then—at the exact moment—pressing the shutter. Times have definitely changed. Henri lived in a world of film, 36 exposures, metal cameras and a limited selection of lenses. Henri was a hunter of images, saving his exposures for the right moment. 

Today our photo world for the most part is digital, and memory cards have replaced film. Can you imagine your memory card only holding 36 pictures? I have one that wouldn’t hold one picture, and I’ll include a snap. I hear stories all the time of people taking 1,000 to 3,000 images or more on a trip or an assignment. So, my question is: Where in those 3,000 images is the ONE, the HERO, the HOME RUN? Let me step out on a ledge here and say that we have moved beyond “the decisive moment” and forward into “the decisive edit”.

So, how do you learn to edit your work? In my case, I have been lucky enough to find a kindred spirit. For over the past 20 years I have worked with an editor who understands what I am trying to say in both images and words. I have been blessed, and I’d like to introduce you to David Gremp. David and I started working together on the remake of Fred Picker’s Zone VI Newsletter. We went away from its old path and went straight for the heart and soul of large-format image making, and it worked. The Newsletter for the Photographic Artist was published for close to 10 years, we introduced the world to many new artists and had fun doing it. David shares my ideas on photography and is an accomplished artist in his own right (see Photos Reveal Snapshots of City Neighborhoods in Late '70s).

The hardest thing to do with an editor is listen. Did you hear that? Opening yourself up to what somebody else sees and how they respond will elevate your photography to new levels. Why? Unless you’re making images only for yourself, I think that it’s good to get the stinkers out of the way first. I have so many images that are personal, made for myself alone, and I think they are GREAT. When I show them to David, I can tell from his response that maybe the best place for that work is for me only. If that’s not a shortcut, I don’t know what is.

I encourage you to find someone that you can share your work and ideas with. The process will make your work stronger and, along the way, you’ll make some great friends. Next month, I’m going to let David tell you about a project that he’s been working on for 40 years.

In closing, if you really want to go crazy in editing, start with movies and try to select the best frame. The images this month are just that and they are off my dogs, I did these at 120 frames a second, that’s faster than any motor drive. I guess I can’t get more personal than that . . .

As always, I welcome your comments:

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