On photography, constant moments, and memory

Clayton Cubitt starts his fascinating article on how photography is changing with a definition of what French photographer (and the father of modern photojournalism) Henri Cartier-Bresson called “The Decisive Moment”:

Cartier-Bresson believed that the photographer is like a hunter, going forth into the wild, armed with quick reflexes and a finely-honed eye, in search of that one moment that most distills the time before him. In this instant the photographer reacts, snatching truth from the timestream in the snare of his shutter. The Decisive Moment is Gestalt psychology married to reflexive performance art in the blink of a mechanical eye.

It is the creation of art through the curation of time.

Cubitt goes on to point out that we now live in the Constant Moment, where it’s possible to take endless photos of everything, and edit (“curate”) later. Yet, notably, he doesn’t believe that’s a bad thing:

The Constant Moment doesn’t end [what characterizes the Decisive Moment]. All it does is capture the billion missed Decisive Moments that previously slipped through our fingers, by expanding the available window of temporal curation from “here and now” to “anywhere and anytime.” The Constant Moment eliminates dumb luck from photography. It minimizes, as much as anything ever can, the Hawthorne Effect caused by a lifeless camera between our interactions. It continues the photographic tradition of artistic democratization by flattening limits of time, of geography, of access.

It’s very interesting to follow Cubitt’s article by reading Dave Pell’s excellent This is You on Smiles, which essentially argues that the Constant Moment is changing how we experience life and create memories:

During a presentation on happiness at the Ted Conference, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman makes a distinction between the experiencing self and the remembering self. Digital photography gives additional dominance to the remembering self. […]

The digital age gives a new (and almost opposite) meaning to having a photographic memory. The experience of the moment has become the experience of the photo. […]

Snapping and sharing photos from meaningful events is nothing new. But the frequency with which we take pictures and the immediacy with which we view them will clearly have a deep impact on the way we remember. And with cameras being inserted into more devices, our collective shutterspeed will only increase.

Both pieces are worth reading this weekend.