Assignment three The (in)decisive moment

‘The decisive moment is not a dramatic climax but a visual one: the

result is not a story but a picture.’

(Swarkowski, 2007, p.5)

‘You know it’s funny. You come to someplace new, and everything looks just the same.’

(Eddie in Stranger Than Paradise, Dir. Jim Jarmusch, 1984)

Brief

Create a set of between six and ten finished images on the theme of the decisive moment. You may choose to create imagery that supports the tradition of the ‘decisive moment’ or you may choose to question or invert the concept by presenting a series of ‘indecisive’ moments. Your aim isn’t to tell a story, but in order to work naturally as a series there should be a linking theme, whether it’s a location, event or particular period of time.

Include a written introduction to your work of between 500 and 1000 words outlining your initial ideas and subsequent development. You’ll need to contextualise your response with photographers that you’ve looked at, and don’t forget to reference the reading that you’ve done.

Exemplars

The OCA photography forum is a useful place to discuss ideas, share work and gather informal advice for this assignment. Tutor Clive White:

‘As ever it’s not about showing us decisive moments it’s about the student showing us they understand the concept and can employ it creatively as a strategy in progressing their own work.’

For a view from assessment read the post on David Fletcher’s Assignment 3 on the WeAreOCA blog here:
https://weareoca.com/subject/film/david-fletcher/

OCA student Steve Young used juxtaposition and ambiguity as his creative strategy (be aware that the brief has since been updated): https://createatocalevel1photograph.wordpress.com/category/assignments/assignment-3/

And another ‘inversion’ of the decisive moment from student Martyn Rainbird:

https://ocamartynrainbird.wordpress.com/category/assignments/assignment-3/

Introduction:

Bresson once said ‘Photography doesn’t take much brains, only sensitivity, fingers and two legs’. Those words have stuck with me throughout my adult life, redefining what it takes to be a photographer. As a child, i’d always saw photography as more of a technical ability, but as technology has become more accessible, everyone can be a photographer. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that a lot of people are documenting, sharing their life through this fantastic visual medium – in fact, it proves Henri’s point even further, you don’t need a high IQ to take a photograph that will evoke an emotional response. Capturing people in their everyday life can be incredibly interesting, it can also open your eyes to the rest of the world. Bresson would often say that seeing someone through a viewfinder is like seeing them without their clothes on, people can appear very vulnerable when you take their photo and it tells you a lot about how they feel inside – They may blush, they may squirm, they may even embrace it and relax until the moment is over. There’s immense overlap in these areas when it comes to my other passion in life – hairdressing. I have spent almost the entirety of my childhood in my mother’s salon, waiting for her to finish her last customer so we could head home. Being surrounded by so many different varieties of people since a child, as well as coming from a family of African refugees – I have always found it incredibly easy to get along with people regardless of any differences. As I’ve grown older, I’ve followed in the footsteps of my mother by starting my own career in hair as well as photography. I’ve found that over the years, people have become a lot more comfortable around each other. Despite the pandemic, there’s a large amount of people ready to start embracing life once more. I do feel the opposite in some regard, I have a lot of anxiety about returning back to normality but I see it as a necessary step in my development as a person by getting back on track. For this assignment I want to make sure I’m meeting new people within the hair community, signalling my return back to the day of the working man and attempting to cure this anxiety that’s built up throughout the course of the past year. I am also going to focus on the intention behind each photograph, making creative choices and introducing visual elements that will help further my development on my journey to becoming a professional fine art photographer. A friend of mine once told me that ‘photography isn’t real art’, despite his poor wording I do agree with him to a certain extent – although I do find a lot of the ‘art’ in photos stems from the art that naturally occurs in life itself, also the mind of the artist behind the photographs. I always ask myself when looking at photographic works ‘what was the artist’s intention?’ and I find this is a healthy way of trying to figure out why it’s also become such an accessible art form. People need a way to channel their inner creative being but they may not be fantastic at drawing, writing music, they may wish to use photography as a means to express inner creativity.

I was fortunate enough to get an original copy of Vidal Sassoon’s “Cutting Hair: The Vidal Sassoon Way” as a gift from my mother, this book will act as the structural foundation for most of the photographic aesthetic for this assignment, as Sassoon as incredibly particular when it came to how his haircuts were photographed. Christian von Ehrenfel’s “On Gestalt Qualities” has also been incredibly helpful in my understanding of fundamental imaging principles as well as Joseph V. Mascelli’s “The Five C’s of Cinematography”. The book explains the importance of Camera Angles, Continuity, Cutting, Close-ups and Composition which are elements of both still and motion photography.

Getting Started:

For this I wanted to make sure I had a connection with the concept. For most of my life I have been surrounded by hairdressers no matter how far I stray from home, hair always seems to find me. This is because my mother has been a hairdresser for about 28 years, owning her own salon for over 20. Me, my sister, my girlfriend, father, mother – even my friends, are all in the hair and beauty industry. I have worked in it for 6 years myself, I trained at Vidal Sassoon in London, as well as WELLA HQ in Manchester – so it’s safe to say that I take it pretty seriously. For this project I wanted to photograph the hair establishment, more specifically I wanted to capture the enthusiasm and passion that a lot of hair stylists have towards their work especially now returning on the 14th of April. The hair industry was struck really hard this past year, being amongst some of the most economically affected businesses through the pandemic. The hair and beauty sector has not been able to fully open in Sheffield in almost a year. With most hair stylists being self employed, Covid grants barely even touch the sides if you run a premisis – utility bills, rent, wifi for businesses that haven’t seen clients in months now. Of course, I am not saying these businesses should have remained open, what happened throughout the past year was unprecedented and has affected people from all walks of life. I know a lot of people who haven’t had a paycheque since this started, people with mouths to feed, struggling to make ends meet – that’s why this project is important. I have been in contact with a lot of independent businesses who’ve suffered over lockdown. My aim at the end of the first lockdown was to help as many people out as possible who haven’t been able to promote their works properly due to covid precautions/lockdowns. I called this the Covid Assignment. My explanation and learning from these projects will become incredibly useful as a reference point for a lot of my creative development throughout this assignment. It’s incredibly important to explain what I have learned from these recent endeavours, but it’s also useful to add context to the finalised work.

Learning from The Covid Assignment:

“Cheffield, Part One and Two”

This project was based on a start-up street food business that had opened after the first nationwide lockdown. The food is great, but they also had a lot of passion in their presentation. My philosophy behind these assignments was to document businesses that I thought were drops of colour in bleak city struggling constantly to find its identity. I believe there were around 70 finished photographs as one finished music video – which acted more as a trailer for the business. I only picked a handful of pictures from this assignment so I could express a deeper understanding of the visual philosophy I integrate when photographing businesses. I tend to pick angles that people fill find visually pleasing on platforms such as Instagram for example – you need to remember that this business has been open for less than a year, and have garnered a massive social media following since their opening. I wanted to take photographs that would best describe their business in a way that I knew not many people would deliver. The alternative angle is more often than not, the preferred angle. For example I think the close up photograph of the sign was incredibly important, this is the icon that a lot of drivers will see when driving through the neighbourhood – it’s very important that the rest of the world should see it as well. The last photo was inspired by a painting titled “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper.

The painting has an ominous quality, it almost feels detached from reality. I’ve always found Hopper’s work incredibly helpful when photographing a scene I’m unfamiliar with. Also how the light and colours reflect the scene. When light projects, it allows objects to cast shadows – this contrast allows people to engage deeper within the confines of two dimensional imagery.

For example in Automat, you can see what appears to be the reflections of the cafe’s lighting, this further exaggerates the darker elements of the photographs, framing the subject to evoke an emotional response. Do the lights simply set the scene? or do they represent the void like complex of the human mind? Light is incredibly important, in the early days of photography the term “painting with light” was used quite literally as a means of understanding the importance of light in photography. The act of taking photograph, is painting with light.

Learning from this project, and especially after reading “The Five C’s of Cinematography”, I have found that a lot of the techniques used on Cheffield were a little bit messy from a more technical perspective. For example, a lot of the photographs captured on the Canon 7D suffered heavily from colour noise. The camera has travelled all over the world with me, and I am struggling to come to terms with the fact is maybe time for it to go – Using this camera substantially affected the outcome of my photographic process. The same goes for the top middle, I used a Leica TL2 to photograph a sign that’s suspended 7 feet off the ground – I was using manual focus and therefore missed, this isn’t to say the photo isn’t usable for social media, in fact very few people have actually noticed. As a photographer these mistakes can actually be incredibly frustrating, especially when you’re trying to create a back catalog.

I also got the chance to photograph The Blue Note saxophone shop, it was a great shoot. I only had an hour, so I had to make every shot count and it was incredibly small, especially when the owner would get out instruments to show me. Compared to my commercial styled work, I try to tackle shoots like this from a more photojournalist perspective. I try to focus on the quirks, if this were a paid shoot I probably would have had the owner eliminate any and all clutter, but I knew the owner wouldn’t mind the quirks of his unique establishment being on display in the final images.

What I learned from these experiences is that I need to focus more on the people who function in these environments. In retrospect I’d have done Cheffield Street Food and Blue Note completely differently if I knew that the pictures would feel so vacant. It’s a creative choice that I regret, I feel as if these environments look so different without their occupants – this is where the photos lack that ephemeral quality. Without people, these photographs don’t look like moments, they appear almost empty or liminal to a degree. This isn’t to say I dislike the work entirely, I had a fantastic time on this assignment. But, I knew going in that it was going to be difficult. One of the goals was to provide a business with a lot of social media photographs that they could post overtime to garner a wider audience. A brief perspective from an outsider, a second glance, can really help a business when establishing their public identity.

Moving On:

Taking what I have learned from these projects and adapting those lessons to my future work has been arguably one of the most defining moments of my career thus far. I had not actually photographed a business or event in maybe three years – so it served very much as a return to form for me, especially in-between lockdowns. I realised how rusty I had become in a stressful environment, If I’ve learned anything from Capa – it’s to show bravery in environments in which you are not in control, albeit I’m not photographing a chaotic war zone but that’s besides the point. I had a lot more confidence back in my early days of commercial photography, but certainly over the past few years as I’ve taken breaks from photography time-to-time, I can freeze up in overly chaotic scenarios. I often find that i’m trepidatious to which angle or viewpoint to use. That’s why I gravitated towards Gestalt imagery techniques. This something I have referenced several times before now, so I won’t go too in-depth on the understanding of the laws themselves, more on how they can go hand-in-hand with Cartier Bresson’s The Decisive Moment.

Research:

For my work I thought it would be important to look at a variety of different artists. Every artist discussed is going to have a direct effect on the look of the finalised images to contextualise my work even further. This work is combining my two passions, hair and photography – but I love people too. It’s important that I focus on the stylist themselves, as well as the environment. I do not wish to tell a story, but provide a solid collection of moments utilising a collection of techniques I’ve acquired from my recent readings.

Research into The Decisive Moment:

Henri Cartier Bresson’s mantra ‘The Decisive Moment’ is defined in his own words as “The simultaneous recognition in a fraction of a second of the significance of an event as well as of the precise organisation of forms”. He championed pattern, form and line – which were key elements in the rise of Modernist photography in the 1920s. He once said “If the shutter was released at the decisive moment you have instinctively fixed a geometric pattern without which the photograph would have been formless and lifeless.” His eye for geometry stems from his specialism in cubism, he studied at Academy of André Lhote who was a master of his craft. He would also hang out with the Surrealists group in Cafe Cyrano. He even first considered calling himself a “Surrealists photographer” but established photo journalist Robert Capa advised him to reconsider. Years later Capa and Bresson would then both go on to become co-founders of Magnum Photos. I could speak about his work all day, and it’s something we’ve all become familiar with, he’s considered one of the greatest photographer of all time.

“Man cycling down street” 1932

This example is an execution of the decisive moment. You can also the cubism, the geometric shapes with sweeping lines that extend beyond the frame. You can see elements of gestalt theory, with continuity and continuation – there’s a certain level of visual intricacy that is incredibly impressive considering that he mostly shot with rangefinders because they were less intrusive. Rangefinder cameras are incredibly compact, they also don’t accurately portray a visual representation of the final image as the viewfinders are slightly off to one side – meaning it isn’t aligned with the shutter.

FRANCE. Paris. Place de l’Europe. Gare Saint Lazare. 1932.

This is one of Bresson’s most iconic photographs, it isn’t particularly sharp but it’s another example of him utilising gestalt psychology in his work. The man is smeared across the frame, hopping along trying to keep his shoes dry. For me, the importance lies in the reflection on the floor bellow. There’s symmetry, continuation – flipping the image on its side and you can see a slight hint of his surrealists roots. The symmetry in the water has a Matisse quality to it and I’m not sure whether or not it was intentional, but its effective none-the-less. The moment is what matters, what happens before or after is lost in time.

How did this influence my work?

The psychology behind this is incredibly intriguing, it’s now something I think about on a regular basis. Although Bresson has a few dated concepts by today’s standards, such as his belief that a picture can’t be altered after – that you have to take another picture instead. Obviously now we’re working with digital cameras we have immense flexibility after the image is taken. We can alter colours, add depth, exposure levels; editing has now become a staple in modern photography. I am going to make slight alterations without defying the core principles of the decisive moment.

The Five C’s Of Cinematography:

Although this book is mostly dedicated to moving images, Joseph V. Mascelli made it incredibly accessible for any visual creator. 3D animation, paintings, drawings, photographs – the core skills within this book can be applied to any one of them. Camera Angles, Continuity, Cutting, Close-ups, Composition can all be adapted to photography. These are universal techniques. Some of the stuff is irrelevant, but as far as the information about framing, composition, close-ups it’s exactly what I was looking for to develop even further in those areas.

This is a small example, talking about balance in the frame to evoke an an emotional response. It also instructs you how to follow simple visual rules to keep the viewer interested and not break any building tensions. ‘Players’ are the performers. The images are also all high contrast black and white, so you can really pay attention to the lights – it emphasises the outlines of the actors faces and allows me to break it down.

As a textbook, I do find this to be incredibly useful. I am a visual person, so this book basically breaks down all of the fundamentals into digestible chunks. This helped me a lot when trying to figure out how I would position the cameras on the location which is yet to be decided upon. I want the camera to follow the 180 degree rule, essentially making sure the positioning of my shot isn’t going to throw people off. I want the images to have a level of continuity, without telling a narrative. The moments themselves will act as singular frames from a purely objective, photojournalistic approach. Despite my prior knowledge and experience in the hairdressing industry I do want a certain level of detachment from the subject – focusing only on the moments as they occur. This book helped me develop in that area, in the past I would make the work purely about me. I want these images to be about the moments themselves – that’s why it feeds into my Covid assignment as those images were mainly planned to be gifts to the businesses themselves in my style. These images will focus purely on the moments as they occur, whilst still focusing on the subjects in the frame. Mascelli says “A picture with faulty continuity is unacceptable, because it distracts rather than attracts” – this is one of the

Vidal Sassoon Influences:

Vidal Sassoon redefined the Hairdressing industry. Born in 1928, spending a considerable amount of his childhood in an orphanage, living through extreme poverty. His childhood dream was to become an athlete but taking advice from his mother, he started working as a shampoo boy at his local hairdressers. By the early 70s he moved to Los Angeles changing the face of hairdressing forever. His book helped teach his unique method to the masses and it’s one that I refer back to many times when looking for some technical tips on how to improve my hairdressing. As part of my preparation for my return back to work on the 14th of April, Vidal split his work into ABC and this was a very inclusive way in helping new hairdressers fully grasp his creative concepts. He would often look at buildings and objects for hairdressing inspiration, this technique is what lead to creations such as the graduated bob, pixie cut, layered cut – these were all inspired by what he’d seen in the world around him. There isn’t much beyond the imagery in this book that is transferable to photography, the only major visual motif was the monochromatic look which is actually present in almost all of Vidal’s editorial work. It reflects the time period, but the lack of colour actually exaggerates, defining his signature shapes and angles. There’s often striking figures, but the photos are incredibly staged, the backgrounds all a solid white backdrop. They’re quite boring, this is actually my main complaint with the book itself. The information is laid out incredibly well however, and I can’t say too many bad things as the techniques in this book would be learned, adapted to feed my family for years – quite literally. Without Vidal Sassoon, there’s truly no way of knowing where I’d be.

There’s an almost delicate quality in his hand movements, this isn’t something I have seen many people photograph in the past. Hairstylists tend to move swiftly and quickly, it’s hard to photograph each stage of the process. You often perceive a visit to the hairdressers as one singular experience, when for a stylist, each client may need 3-8 different stages of development which is then segmented over a significant amount of time. Hair can be a tedious, a lot of people tend to quit when they learn this. It’s hard to learn all of these angles and techniques without making the odd mistake – that’s why Sassoon opened his school, so young people had the opportunity to better themselves through further education. You could argue that a lot of these looks are dated, but I assure you almost all of his fundamental methods are utilised in one form or another in today’s fashion climate. Hair is confined to certain shapes, certain people aren’t ever able to have their ‘ideal cut’ – Vidal wanted to change this, by allowing everyone the opportunity to express themselves in unique ways through hair.

Clothes designer Mary Quant, one of the leading lights of the British fashion scene in the 1960’s, having her hair cut by another fashion icon, hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, 10th November 1964. (Photo by Ronald Dumont/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Ronald Dumont somewhat captured this moment in his photo of Sassoon and Mary Quant. The photograph displays one of the many stages of the hairdressing process – I am assuming this photo was taken directly before an event – that would explain why Mary isn’t wearing a hairdressing gown. In this photograph Dumont chooses to focus on the face, her pose perfectly displays the striking angles we’ve come to associate with Vidal’s work. As you can see the angles compliment Quant’s facial features, the cut really adds to her look.

Clothes designer Mary Quant, one of the leading lights of the British fashion scene in the 1960’s, having her hair cut by another fashion icon, hairdresser Vidal Sassoon, 10th November 1964. (Photo by Ronald Dumont/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This angle is probably my most favorite of the work Dumont and Vidal did together, the framing of this is amazing as well. One of the more interesting facts about this photograph is that Mary Quant was actually a significant figure in women’s fashion in the 1960’s – Dumont actually chose to focus his lens on Vidal as opposed to the stunning model, as you can clearly see her eyes aren’t sharp – instead he chooses to draw attention to Sassoon’s form. His body is relaxed in an almost unnatural position. What’s even more striking to me at least is that Vidal seems to be almost transfixed on his craft, the model looking onward past the camera. It’s a really striking composition with lots of visual queues I wish to adapt to my own work further down the road.

circa 1968: Actress Mia Farrow being given a £500 haircut by Vidal Sassoon, in preparation for the film ‘Rosemary’s Baby’. (Photo by Alan Band/Keystone/Getty Images)

Alan Band photographed Vidal Sassoon giving Mia Farrow her famous pixie cut for Rosemary’s Baby – a haircut she paid him five thousand dollars to carry out. Vidal was the hottest name in hair at this point. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Roman Polanski was a good friend of Sassoon, and he himself invited the press to come down to Paramount Studios to witness Mia Farrow receiving her trademark haircut. He jumped at the opportunity to return to Hollywood, because at that time Mia Farrow was married to Frank Sinatra – one of the greatest musical artists of all time. The event was even broadcasted on television and held in the middle of a boxing ring, initially reporters were intended to stay outside of the ring to give Vidal more time to work – but in his own words “that lasted about two minutes” “It was a total madhouse”. This picture isn’t framed perfectly, but what we don’t see is just as important as what we’re seeing, especially in this photograph.

Renowned photographer David Montgomery worked with Sassoon on this fantastic gelatine silver print of Grace Coddington – showcasing Vidal’s famous Five-point cut which would keep it’s shape no matter the weather. Like I said earlier, black and white formats really showcase the level of craftsmanship in these unique hair designs. This was the epitome of trendy at this time, 1966. Montgomery is of course known for his intense portraits, photographing everyone from the Queen, Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney – even Mick Jagger. He would only ever produce perhaps a handful of images in this particular style, in fact, this is by far the most exaggerated of the whole lot – the contrast being so high that you can barely tell the model is Grace Coddington of all people.

I think David’s reasoning behind this, was because Eric Swayne had taken some similar pictures of Coddington a couple years prior and he perhaps didn’t want to similar photos to another incredibly established photographer. Vidal had of course been incredibly hands-on in the hairdressing process for these photos to further ensure his work was being displayed flatteringly to both represent his skill, but also Grace’s facial features. The sweeping design of this particular cut is terrific, slanted and asymmetrical, this is of course in contrast to the fact Coddington has a symmetrical face which further accentuate her beauty. As you can see the contrasts and lighting isn’t as exaggerated.

Obviously I could go on forever about Sassoon’s work with some of the most iconic fashion and portrait photographers of all time – as well as his work with Vogue, his influence on Twiggy’s hairstyle and how he redefined women’s hair forever. I think one of the most defining aspects of Vidal’s career is breaking into a female lead industry and completely redefining what it means to be a hairdresser. Male hair stylists are often few and far between these days, and during my three years of training I only ever met a handful of them that actually stayed in the hairdressing industry forever. I think for this project at least, I want to focus on the impact of male-lead hair salons. I have been surrounded by female-lead salons my whole life, seeing my mom work in her natural habitat has been one of the most inspiring aspects of my whole life – but for this assignment, I wish to step outside my comfort zone even further. I understand that Sassoon is known almost exclusively for his work with the female form – but he’s a substantial figure in the hair industry itself, he’s worked with some of the best fashion photographers of that era, he offers a deeper catalog of work to digest than most other hair icons.

Christian Von Ehrenfel’s On ‘Gestalt Qualities’ and the effect it had on my work:

He writes: “If we have succeeded in sketching a picture, however broad in outline, of the role and significance of the phenomena considered in psychic life, then it might now be pointed out that the theory of Gestalt qualities would perhaps be qualified to bridge the gulf between the various sensory regions, and indeed between the various categories of the presentable in general.” His writings detail the mechanical brain-occurrences when we hear sounds and perceive images. It’s incredibly well written, he makes It quite simple to grasp these concepts. He talks about the mind’s ability to define and picture shapes within our consciousness, and how we can deconstruct, associate and differentiate through our brain and ears. This really helped me gain a deeper understanding of photography as a whole. This is where the term ‘gestalt’ was first used and recognised. It actually gave me an even deeper insight into the works of Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler and Kurt Koffka. Who helped really further gestalt psychology. As a lot of my friends are in fact clinical psychologists, a lot of their work fascinates me. I could easily dedicate an entire assignment to them as their knowledge and insights have made it incredibly easy for me to break down these terms in order to gain a firm understanding of these concepts. I really want to make sure I am delivering the best quality images that I can provide for these assignments.

Location:

The location was set at a local barbershop, it was a male-lead salon and couldn’t have been more different to the hairdressers I’d grown up in – in the best way possible. I wanted an environment with a certain level of detachment so I could document it from an objective point of view ( as I’ve detailed earlier) – this is so I could focus on the moments themselves without getting too attached to the subjects I was photographing. I have been in a female-lead environment my entire career, so I thought it would also be quite refreshing to see a different type of salon.

Combining it all together:

I have been reading a lot recently due to lockdown, so finding relevant research was incredibly easy. I wanted to pay a slight homage to all the practitioners that I’d researched for this assignment, that’s why I am photographing the entire event in black and white – strictly .jpegs as well, so there’s no correction afterwards. I want to embrace the definition of the decisive moment. That’s not to say that there won’t be any sharpening or tweaking after, but I really want to build on my skills for this assignment, and take responsibility if anything goes wrong on the shoot. I’m also going to be using a Leica – again, paying homage to Bresson and Capa who would use them throughout their career.

THE SHOOT:

With the exception of one or two shots, almost all of this was shot on the Leica TL2, I had it on multi field metering, with a 28mm lens set mostly to F1.4 – this is a manual focused lens. I set the images to Black and White and programmed the camera to shoot .RAWs as well as .jpegs just in case I did make any crazy mistakes. I brought two soft boxes, as you can see from the images below there was a lot of light coming in through the window – if I’d not have packed my soft boxes to fill the subjects they’d be entirely silhouetted. I positioned the lights very practically, none of them ended up showing in the shots which was another thing I’d learned from The Five C’s of Cinematography.

I tried to look seek out those minute movements, the mathematical precision – the gestalt imagery, mixed with Bresson’s work on the decisive moment. These aren’t the moments you’d catch from where you’d be sat in the chair. While youre sitting and drinking coffee, the stylist is at work – crafting, shaping, every movement has purpose. I’m very pleased with how these images turned out. They definitely evoke a certain Vidal Sassoon-like quality. I followed the 180 degree rule for the most part, utilising techniques I’d learned from The Five Cs. The photos definitely follow a continuity, but I wouldn’t say there’s anything narratively bonding them together, each photo was meant to represent the very moment itself. I wanted to make sure the whole was different to the sum of its parts. Actively ensuring that my readings were indeed impacting my work, forcing me out of my comfort zone. Initially I was nervous, but as a I started to talk with the guys they were actually really chilled out – they were open to suggestion and let me have almost complete creative control on the look of the images, as well as how they were taken. I wanted the subjects to remain as relaxes as possible, as if we’re watching them in their natural environment. You can see the impact of Montgomery’s work had over the finalised images – quite a few of them are purposely over exposed. I wanted the whites to be quite piercing at first, the sunlight helped with this. The soft boxes were faced slightly away from all of the subject’s faces. I wanted to catch some edge light, illuminate the eyes but also exaggerate the contrast naturally without needing any further advancements later. As I said I shot this assignment almost entirely in black and white – in camera, this helped me further embrace the philosophy of the decisive moment, as I was often left contemplating my next move, waiting for the right shot. Bresson once said that being a photographer is like being a predator, stalking their pray – analysing their every movement, I felt like I was doing that here.

In retrospect, there are a few things I would change, I have actually pondered what some of these images would actually look like in colour but I feel this may take away from the look of the images or break the illusion. Editing was actually one of the easiest processes of any of my projects, because I was shooting most of this with 2 different light sources, I had immense control over the look and could correct my settings as I went along. I ended up rounding down a collection of over a hundred different photographs to 60 final ones that I really liked, the only real variations between each of them being the moment themselves – shot this in continuous drive mode, which meant one picture would take consecutively after the next. This meant I had maybe 2-3 identical variations between each shot. I didn’t integrate any HDR, and tried to back away from overly correcting. Adding to the decisive moment, I wanted to emphasise the water sprays, this was particularly hard because the sun would often catch on the water droplets and they’d be lost in over exposed areas – In most of the examples below this isn’t as obvious as I’d initially anticipated and they definitely add a lot to the finished assignment.

Final Images:

Rounding the images down was quite hard, mostly because I think there were way too many individualised moments that I really liked. The only problem I had with the 60 I chose is that they seemed to follow a slight narrative unintentionally – so I made a creative decision to break that continuity down, focusing mainly on visual elements to tie the themes together. I wanted the first image to establish this new setting, but I also wanted the sun to be bouncing off the wall – this wider shot was only possible on the Canon if I recall – which had an 15mm lens attached to it, the wall was quite large an I wanted it all in frame.

I personally thought this one would make quite a good introduction shot, mainly just to establish this new setting – I wanted it to feel new to both me and the viewer. You can see that the interior lighting was actually really good for this one, I didn’t need any fill light to make the walls look more even. I didn’t really like the way the wires looked, but the repetition between each station contrasting with the patterned tile floor really adds contrast and much needed depth to the photograph. I think the black and white really helps bring this out. I wanted to make sure that I had a lot of ceiling as well, to further emphasise scale but also add some visual variation – like the lights are leading you down into the chairs, naturally.

For these types of shots I had to get really close to the subjects, you can see the bounce light really helps here adding much needed light to areas which would otherwise be drowned in shadows. I wanted the arms to lead the eyes into the shot, for the viewer to naturally hunt for the eyes. It was incredibly important that I not miss focus, as you could imagine the consequences when shooting at f1.4. The natural light adds a really crisp quality to these images, that combined with the soft box created a really nice cohesive look that was easily recreated for each situation. This meant all of the images would have the same level of contrast.

This one was great and was probably one of the best executions of the decisive moment in the whole collection. The client had said a joke which triggered laughter from the stylist, after this he regained his composure and immediately went back to concentration. I am glad that I got some photographs of the stylists having fun, as part of my introduction was about the enthusiasm of returning back to work after lockdown.

This was another great moment, I attempted to get the hair right in the middle of the frame – the arm acting as a divide between the client and the stylist, segmenting them across the image. I think this could have been done more effectively, but it really conveys the message I was trying to say, another moment with a lot going on. You can see that I am following the gestalt principles in most of these examples, keeping up the consistency and attempting to nail each shot consecutively. This shoot was incredibly hard, it required a lot of work – especially when moving the lights for each scene.

This being one of the famous ‘water spraying’ moments, I had to make sure I didn’t overexpose the droplets. I also thought it would be nice to include another picture of the stylist smiling to build on those themes of enthusiasm I’d talked about briefly in the introduction. I think the lighting isn’t as good on this particular shot but it portrays the message I was trying to say. Everyone was having a great time, the morale was high and a lot of my initial anxiety had completely disappeared. People were really relaxed on camera, they were incredibly good at forgetting I was there which further allowed the sensitivity of each given scene to present itself naturally as opposed to forcing it. They would naturally make each other laugh, this further building on Bresson’s philosophy.

Out of all of the images I shot, these were the most satisfying. A lot of it had to do with the fact that I knew what to look out for, again, these sorts of moments you usually miss when getting your haircut – but for people like us, this is all we’re seeing. This again builds on that level of disconnection, the client is experiencing a completely different perspective than the stylist. This is like revealing what’s behind the curtain so to speak. You can see the bounce light in the mirror, I think this does become a bit distracting once you notice it – but the lighting was needed in order for the scene to feel complete – this is something they didn’t mind.

I knew being in an environment mostly filled with mirrors that I’d eventually start playing around with reflections, this was me hunting for my decisive moment through the mirror. I wanted a photograph that would feature two perspectives, to further build on my readings on gestalt principles. This image was really effective. I turned the light off for this, and wanted the right side of the frame to be a little bit darker to add contras. You do notice the fact it’s a little darker when I’ve pointed it out, but when you look at the images as a collection it is significantly less apparent.

I turned the light back on for the close up, he sectioned the hair nicely down the middle so we had multiple lines and perspectives. I really nailed the focus on this particular image quite well, I think I did a good job of isolating another one of those elegant techniques used by a lot of hairdressers and stylists around the world. These principles look brilliant when photographed under the correct circumstances and can be visually striking no matter if you’re into hair or not.

This image was probably my favourite of the whole lot, capturing a moment I’m sure we’ve all experienced in the past. The cold water droplets on your skin can often send a slight shiver up your spine, I wanted to capture this. As you can see the client closed his eyes, he was actually flinching over the freezing cold water spray. This is a really good moment, probably my most favourite of the whole collection. I also like how the water naturally fills those negative spaces, adding more visual elements to further engage the viewer into the scene. The framing is also really good, I wanted to focus the viewpoint on the stylist but blur him out – allowing us to look more at what he’s doing, as opposed to who he is.

In conclusion, this was the final image. It does break the 180 degree rule, which is talked about in the Five C’s – but I think this is a good way of establishing a final photograph to round off the collection. These are the tools used by the professionals, and for the past year they’ve had a lot on their plate both financially and emotionally – I wanted this project to be a tribute to an industry that has fed me and my family for my entire life. The guys in the barbershop were incredibly welcoming, Bresson would often say that people are at their most vulnerable in front of camera, and although there were a few moments where I did sense a little bit of vulnerability – as the time passed, these barriers broke down and I was fully able to blend into the scene almost encapsulating what it means to capture the decisive moment. Although there are things I would have done differently, such as some of the lighting and adhering more strictly to the visual principles of photography by embracing newer technologies such as autofocus – using these more analog techniques further developed my skills as a photographer and a visual storyteller. I was also able to predetermine the philosophy of each shot as opposed to the technical aspects which are incredibly distracting and have been the soul focus of most of my work so far. I focused and anticipating each moment, and although I didn’t completely nail my exposure on each shot, I am really happy with the work.

Published by bobbiemeralisarangi

Sheffield based Fine Art Photographer.

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