This video is part of a set of free resources on Masters of Photography, the online education platform. The aim of these free resources is to provide insight on how the great masters of photography work.

The Decisive Moment is an 18 min documentary film produced in 1973, which features a selection of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s iconic photographs, along with a rare commentary by the photographer himself.

Henri Cartier-Bresson was a French humanist photographer considered a master of candid photography, and an early user of 35 mm film. He pioneered the genre of street photography and was a founding member of Magnum photography in 1947.

In 1952, Cartier-Bresson published his book “Images à la sauvette”, whose English edition was titled “The Decisive Moment”. It included a portfolio of 126 of his photos from the East and the West. The book’s cover was drawn by Henri Matisse. For his 4,500-word philosophical preface, Cartier-Bresson took his keynote text from the 17th century Cardinal de Retz who said: “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment”. Cartier-Bresson applied this idea to his photographic style. According to him, “photography is simultaneously and instantaneously the recognition of a fact and the rigorous organisation of visually perceived forms that express and signify that fact”.  His definition highlights 3 skills that a good photographer needs:

1. the ability to recognise an event and in Henri’s words: “In photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject. The little, human detail can become a Leitmotiv.”

2. the skill of capturing the composition that will express the essence of the event itself

3. the expertise to do both 1 and 2 simultaneously as the events are fleeting. “Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.”

Enjoy the video and don’t forget: 

Photography is not documentary, but intuition, a poetic experience. It’s drowning yourself, dissolving yourself, and then sniff, sniff, sniff – being sensitive to coincidence. You can’t go looking for it; you can’t want it, or you wont get it. First you must lose your self. Then it happens. – Henri Cartier-Bresson