Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Decisive Moment - 09/10/09

I bring this up as a reminder to myself that it is the decisive moment that most powerfully orders our perceptions and the subsequent interpretation of those perceptions. This is especially important to remember and consider in the age of digital media where it is possible to work an idea or filmic moment beyond the point of its vitality. Particularly in the conception stage (and particularly in graduate school!) when we are motivated to try to understand an image or contextualize an idea before it is made, it is important not to forget that the intuition is a powerful (and often the initial) driving force behind the artistic impulse.

"The (film) editor's job now is to choose the right images and make those images follow one another at the right rate to express something like what is captured in the photograph.... In choosing a representative frame, what you are looking for is an image that distills the essence of the thousands of frames that make up the shot in question."
- Walter Murch

"There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment."
"Il n'y a rein dans ce monde qui n'ait un moment decisif."
Jean Francois Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz

"Life is once, forever."
- Henri Cartier-Bresson

Auster, Paul. "The Decisive Moment." The Art of Hunger and Other Essays. Menard Press:

London, 1982.

In this essay Auster considers the poetry of Charles Reznikoff and its visual implications. Auster writes: "To cross the threshold of his work is to... find oneself exposed to a world in which language has not yet been invented. Seeing, in his poetry, always comes before speech... the act of writing... is not so much an ordering of the real as a discovery of it." What interests me most about this piece is Auster's interpretation and transference of Cartier-Bresson's notion of the decisive moment as something relevant to written poetic imagery in addition to actual images. We make the world by our decisions of where, what, and how long to look at something and then (as is the domain of artist - poet, filmmaker, and photographer alike) we make the world again in how we describe it.

Murch, Walter. "The Decisive Moment." In the Blink of an Eye: a Perspective on Film Editing,

2nd ed. Sillman-James Press: Beverly Hills, CA, 1995. 32-42.

As a film editor, Walter Murch has more direct reason to relate Cartier-Bresson's notion of the decisive moment to his work with the juxtaposition of moving images. In this essay, Murch outlines one of his editing technique in which he extracts a defining still image from each filmic shot, and places them sequentially on the wall in text like order (left to right). Murch theorizes that this technique can generate "sparks" which lead to "editorial leaps". Again, there are layers of decisive moments implicit to this technique and the editing process as a whole. Choosing the first frame is a decisive moment as is each successive shot selection and cut and splice (or click and drag). Through the juxtaposition of shots and sequences, meaning is made.

Henri Cartier-Bresson - The Decisive Moment

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