Most of my time these days is spent in the studio, but I am trying to carve out some time for reading as well, as that often feeds the work. I'm currently immersed in H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. The book is beautifully written and spans a range of genres--part memoir and part nature writing, as well as an exploration of the ways that life and death play out in our lives. I love books like this, that weave a kind of tapestry of ideas. One passage I read the other day about photography and capturing the moment has captivated my thoughts. Henri Cartier-Bresson, a world renowned photographer talked about the "decisive moment." Macdonald quotes him here:
"Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera....The moment! Once you miss it, it is gone for ever."
I appreciate this idea, especially as it relates to making photographs, but in meeting up with Cartier-Bresson again, I am reminded that the notion of the "decisive moment" resonates in a much larger way for me. The other morning, as I sat down to make the daily drawing, holding pen to a spare sheet of 6 x 4" Japanese paper, I was caught in that decisive moment when my arm and hand began to move, making the first mark with the pen. That split second....that decisive moment charts the course of the drawing. It seems the stage is set with that first mark....is it halting or flowing, a moving line or a closed shape, does the drawing begin in the middle or hover in a corner? It seems so inconsequential, as the drawing unfolds in mere moments, completely intuitively, but it does so in response to that decisive moment of the first mark. I see this as a kind of metaphor for many larger things in life.
As I have reflected on the expanded passage in H is for Hawk, in which she talks about the photographs her father took, capturing particular moments on film, I've thought about this. Those moments captured by photographs are just the ones we see, the few rare moments that are actually caught, stilled for the ages. But those moments are happening everywhere, at all times, and almost none of them are captured, at least by cameras, digital or otherwise. If we are paying attention, they are captured by our senses and stored in our memory, fading (or not) like old Polaroids. But think of this...those moments, those decisive moments, are happening all around us, every day, and we miss most of them. But they are part of the history of time, because they happened, even if no one noticed. It's the way I like to envision all the words spoken, hovering in the air, the sincere and heartfelt ones mingling with the thoughtlessly uttered and the cruelly spoken. In those moments when that image comes to me, I want to limit my words to ones that count, that can add something meaningful, rather than clutter the void with ever more prattle.
During these reflections on the decisive moment, I came back to something I like to remind myself, which is that every moment is a moment of choice. The decisive moment implies making a choice. But those moments are, in effect, every moment. We can choose to respond or react in a given situation, we can focus our attention or avoid noticing, we making countless choices...without even paying attention to the fact that we've done so.
So for me, this short passage, related in less than a page in my book, has expanded in numerous directions. I am reminded that each moment is a moment of decision, that those "decisive moments" we have recorded in our collective memories through still photographs and are happening all around us, all the time. They'll remain with the ages, just beyond the reach of our awareness, or if we slow down, use our senses more mindfully, we can record them through our own engagement. And the decisive moment is very much with me during my time in the studio, creating new work that is made through the result of an endless accumulation of decisive moments.
Nothing like hours at the desk in the studio to fuel the wondering mind! Glimpses above of works in progress and a slowly expanded lineup of new pieces for my show. The plan is to have 27 of these in 3 groups of 9. That will mean roughly one piece a day....not much time for reading, but plenty of time for reflection!!
See you again soon. Enjoy the rest of your week.