Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the earliest pioneers of street photography, is as famous for his theory behind street photography, coining the phrase “the decisive moment”, as he is for his photography itself. [Truth be told, Cartier-Bresson doesn’t deserve all the credit – he borrowed this phrase from the seventeenth-century Arch-Bishop of Paris, Jean François Paul de Gondi, who said: “Il n’y a rien dans ce monde qui n’ait un moment decisive.” (“There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.”)].
It’s been suggested that Cartier-Bresson was omnipresent, ready to catch each decisive moment as it presented itself: a man frozen in mid-air leaping over a flooded street; a bike spinning a round a corner; a member of the resistance, teeth clenched, lashing out at a Gestapo collaborator.
However, I think that there was more to capturing the decisive moment than that − to really see into the life of things, I think he knew what he wanted to see first, and was then prepared and patient. So, what you want to see is just as important in shaping a photograph as the timing.
During our recent trip to Havana, I spent several days walking along El Malecón looking for this shot. I’ve been to Havana a few times, and I’ve wanted this shot since I first watched the Habaneros diving off the rocks into the ocean, the sun boiling everything white. Seemingly without a care for their physical well-being; caught in their own moment of thrill and decisiveness. I’ve seen the shot in my head for years. With just a little patience, I found it.
Off the rocks in Habana One . . .