For five days only, Magnum Photos are selling signed $100 prints that respond to late-founder Henri Cartier-Bresson’s conception of the ‘Decisive Moment’
In a world where $100 is a legitimate coffee budget for a month, the Magnum Square Print Sale is a breath of fresh air. Over 60 images are available for around £70 through the project– one selected by each and every one of the agency’s photographers – and they are available for a limited five-day period. From Gueorgui Pinkhassov’s attempted murder in Soviet Russia to Michael Christopher Brown’s vacant boy getting a trim in downtown China; the diverse range of images available are all responding to the meaning of the decisive moment in all its ambiguous glory.
Photography itself is capturing a moment with a pressing purpose by snapshotting it and giving it permanence. Henri-Cartier Bresson is of course known as a photographic master but he was just as much a master of the decisive moment in his abstraction and critical analysis of the notion. Cartier-Bresson became a living connotation of the phrase when his 1938 book “Images à la Sauvette” became “The Decisive Moment” for its American release in 1952. Magnum Photos, the agency he co-founded, is celebrating this with a print sale combining classic and contemporary photography. The select images have been chosen for the allure of decisiveness and equally indecisiveness that runs through the image, the moment and the artist.
"The (More or Less) Decisive Moments" is a sale from Magnum Photos, as interpreted by over 60 photographers and artists. From Tyra Banks getting steamy in the shower to on the streets of NYC with Bruce Gilden – signed and estate stamped prints for $100 are available now until Friday 10 June. See a selection of what you can buy below, along with each photographer’s reasons for choosing the image:
“Probably, no photographer has influenced me for as long as Henri Cartier-Bresson. For some 50 years, I’ve been drawn to his early, pre-war work with its surreal ambiguity. However, ever since I first saw my father’s copy of The Decisive Moment in the late 1960s, I’ve been uneasy with the title. The notion of a ‘decisive moment’ seems just too pat, too unpoetic for such a complicated vision. Years later, it was gratifying to discover that the original French title was Images à la Sauvette—’Images on the Sly’—a humbler notion more in the spirit of his early street photographs, work that embraces the mystery and uncertainty of collaborating with the world. ‘It is the photo that takes you,’ as he once said. There are many photographs of mine that have ‘taken’ me. I chose Havana, 1993 because Cuba, then, seemed suspended in time, echoing the feel of the Spanish streets in the 1930s that Cartier-Bresson photographed so memorably. I suspect that the Cartier-Bresson I knew would have been skeptical of the color of this homage to him— but I’d like to think his younger, surrealistic self would have at least appreciated the two boys in the background with that soccer ball hovering overhead, out of reach forever.”
“I took this image at the Black Sea beachfront in the city of Sukhumi in the unrecognised republic of Abkhazia. Tourists and locals were hanging out picnicking and bathing. When people are hurling themselves from old shipwrecks I don’t necessarily think, ‘Oh, here is a decisive moment’. Actually, I often don’t think so much at all when I photograph, it is more gut instinct working, just lots of reactions. For me, the thinking and categorising is better done before and after the actual photographing. Anyways, I don’t think too much about the classic concept of the decisive moment, for me, they are just moments. Some are complicated, where lots of elements come together; some are simple low-hanging fruit; some are long, drawn-out sluggish affairs; others are over in a split second. Whatever it is, the shutter had better be open at the right time.”
“I leave the ‘decisive moment’ to Henri. ‘Decisive’ gives the impression the moment was frozen in time. For fifty years, my photography has been a succession of ‘suspended moments’; the characters in my photos were not frozen in time but they kept on doing what they were doing before I photographed them.
For over thirty years now, the assistant has been smoothing one coat; one model prepares to jump on the railing, while another is about to come down; two beautiful women lounge, odalisque-like, on the slab, the wind blowing into their dresses. For over thirty years, my camera has been in the foreground, eager for action. This was my first fashion shoot with the top models of the time.”
MICHAEL CHRISTOPHER BROWN
“Sometimes I’m able to capture a decisive moment and other times, call it slow or lazy, I’m just dumbfounded by what is in front of me and am either late or I completely forget about photography and take no picture. In this case, I was lucky the dumbfoundedness allowed me to at least be late and to take a ‘more or less’ decisive moment. It is ‘more or less’ decisive because when I consider the decisive moment I, of course, think of Henri Cartier-Bresson and a photograph with a subject engaged in a moment that lasts a fraction of a second. In this image, there is a moment with the street barber and his tools, but it is secondary to the boy’s expression, the subject, which continued for at least a minute. From the time I first spotted him amid a flurry of shoppers during rush hour in downtown Dalian, China, until after the photograph was taken he was still as a stone, just like this.”
“I often followed this man and his rooster on the edge of town. He strolled around, smoked his cigar, talked to his pet. What the afternoon light connects is a minute peak of the action between the two.”
“I thought I couldn’t be better than Henri Cartier-Bresson so I decided to be the best Bruce Gilden I can be. At that time, the cops would chase away the people selling Frankfurters with their carts on the street to give them a ticket. This guy was running away from them with his cart so as not to get a summons. The dog in the background completed the dance.”
“How spontaneous is that glance? It’s hard to know if Tim made this portrait as a caught moment or as a process, but we do know that it was purposeful. Having deliberately identified it as a rubber tire, Tim further annotated the image with historical data: in 1926 the Firestone Rubber Tire Company signed a 99-year lease with the Liberian Government and rubber manufacture became the backbone of the economy. He later returned to the picture to note that in 2005 Firestone was sued in the US for slavery and use of child labour. Tim stored his photographic moments like bottles of wine, maybe inactive for years but never forgotten, and he would dip into the cellar to turn them occasionally until the moment matured.” — Stephen Mayes of the Tim Hetherington Trust
“Tyra had asked me to do a shoot with her after seeing a contact sheet of photos of another actor during downtime on a set. We were both fatigued during the shoot because we had worked on a night-shoot production the night before. When John showed up to hang out and watch during my private shoot with Tyra, I had the idea to shoot some images of them together but I also did not want to infringe on their privacy. John suggested I do some photos of them together. Tyra is what I think of as a generous, intelligent, and sensitive human being, as well as being a beautiful woman, and John is an impassioned artist filmmaker, who is a brilliant writer, connected with the world he lives in. I wanted to capture an image of the two’s feelings for each other at that particular point. Tyra briefly closed her eyes and the moment was there.”
“I have always thought that the expression ‘decisive moment’, when related to the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, was inappropriate. In my opinion, it should be called the ‘decisive instant’. What makes HCB’s images so powerful is their intensity, the fact that the image was taken at X instant, in a fraction of a second, and that at instant X more or less 1/125th of this second, the photograph would not be as interesting or as effective. I admire this virtuosity, however, this is not what I am looking for in my own work. I am looking more for the moment than an instant. The instant risks falling into the mode of the anecdote, or that which can only be exceptional. The moment, which I feel belongs more the grammar of the cinema, has a more enduring, universal appeal—and this is what interests me. In the image I chose, the instantaneous nature of the moment is captured in the photographic background: the plane has been frozen at the precise instant when it detaches itself from the television antenna. The principal subject, Ah Sai, a young member of a Hong Kong secret society, crouches on a Kowloon city rooftop, lost in his thoughts, still. His pose and facial expression remained unmoving for a long moment. What gives this image strength, according to me, is the combination of a precise photographic instant caught in a lasting cinematic moment.”
“Unfortunately, I can’t tell you any more than what you see in the photo. I, myself, didn’t see anything; I walked by without slowing my pace. My shadow with my lowered head is also captured in this moment—witnessing that I wasn’t a witness. Although this was one of my first forays into street photography, my reflexes didn’t fail me. By this point I had attained certain mastery in another area of photography: ‘fine art’ photography. My work even managed to garner some praise from Tarkovsky, but at the same time he, too, advised me to go shoot the street. I remember his words: ‘For me, photography is Cartier-Bresson.’ ‘Why?’ I asked; the name meant nothing to me. And then he pronounced the formula of this ‘Great Differential’—the value of a moment in space and time. Eventually, I became convinced that the decisive moment isn’t about the skill of choosing a moment and designating it the decisive one, but something else entirely. Here, the moment decides, not you. Your role is rather to trust it and not get in the way; to stop controlling it, and then it will present you with what Cartier-Bresson called ‘objective chance,’ ‘El momento de la verdad'.
“The eye seeks a frame within which a gesture is suspended, motion frozen and all in balance. One can wander or wait to recognize and capture it.”