Seeing into the life of things in Habana

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 . . .


  1. Aubs

    If you take a street performer’s picture – definately tip.
    Colour’s better (black and white tv’s were replaced with colour) but there’s still something pretty capturing about a black and white – maybe less sensory stimulation makes you more reflective about the image and takes away a sense of time, since black and white photos seem older even if the image itself is modern.

    1. Author
      mark millar

      Thanks Aubs! I think you’re right, the lack of colour provides less sensory stimulation and makes you focus more on the shapes and shadows than the colours. I didn’t think about the sense of time though, but it certainly makes sense to me now that you mentioned it. If something seems timeless or universal, it feels like it has more appeal.
      Do you think it’s cheating to create focus by using an ‘older’ technology? By forcing the viewer to be more reflective by processing something in black and white rather than in colour?

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