Dreams of Desire 50 (The Decisive Moment)

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Henri Cartier-Bresson-The Spider of Love, Mexico City 1934
The French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson was another giant of the field who, although not an official member of the Surrealism movement, socialized with the Surrealists and fruitfully applied their ideas in his own work.

This can be seen clearly in his important and influential theory of ‘the decisive moment’, which further develops Andre Breton’s doctrine of ‘objective chance’. Cartier-Bresson argued that, “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment”, and for the photographer to be truly creative they have to recognise that moment; because once you miss it, the moment is gone forever.

A striking example of the decisive moment can be found in his 1934 photograph, The Spider of Love, Mexico City. While attending a party in that city, he felt a little worse for wear and went upstairs to the bathroom. Passing by a bedroom he heard a noise and upon opening the door he discovered two women making love. He later described the event as a miracle of sensuality, which could never be duplicated by posed models.

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63 thoughts on “Dreams of Desire 50 (The Decisive Moment)

    1. This is the photograph he took as he walked through the door, hence the immediacy. I presume he always took his camera everywhere. I wondered if this was too much, but really that ship has sailed and it has been a long time since I was safe for work.

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    1. Well I saw this and I thought I have to write about, though I am a little worried that new readers will get the wrong impression of the content of this site (though maybe not that wrong), but as I said to Vic, that ship has sailed away awhile ago.

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      1. You worry too much. This is very tastefully presented. Even though the content is quite erotic. You don’t make it about the sex… it’s about the artistry and the timing of the photographer.

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      2. Yes, true…. but not in a pornographic fashion. Nudes in art are a completely different thing. Although, come to think of it… you could take into consideration your female readers once in awhile and feature the beautiful male form…. Dreams of Meg’s and Vic’s Desire (1)…

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      3. I was actually thinking about this subject earlier and how although I have featured women artists (Toyen, Cahun, Bernhardt) in the series, the focus in Surrealism is always the female form. Most of the women artists involved in Surrealism were bisexual or lesbian, although one artist I haven’t featured (I have thought about but I am not that keen on her work) Leonor Fini was the first woman artist to paint a male nude. I suppose it is a question of aesthetics. Isn’t the female form just more aesthetic than the male, to both sexes?

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      4. Intersting! I think you might be right. And I don’t know why…. but I’ve had that exact conversation with several of my women friends – that the female form is more esthetically pleasing… at least in art. I have drawn two female nudes myself, have another planned. Why on earth is that the case? Hmmmm….

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      5. The Surrealists were quite emphatic on this point and as the series is mainly concerned with Surrealism and its predecessor Symbolism I have concentrated on this aspect. Beauty is usually personified as a woman. Love also.

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      6. Yes the whole vexed question of the male gaze. I do question the whole school of thinking that applies contemporary standards retro-actively, especially when the movement in question was challenging views on the subject. You cannot expect the past to have the same opinion as now.

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      7. No that makes no sense at all. There have been huge shifts in attitudes in a relatively short period of time. It may skew perception that since it wan’t that long ago, attitudes should be more in line with our modern ones. Not making excuses just pondering …

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    1. It is a striking photograph and challenging too. I like bold moves. C.S Lewis once said on the subject of his fear of insects and spiders, a very common fear, that the deeper reason why was because insect society is based on what men fear most: the rule of the collective and female domination. That has nothing to do with the photograph but it is an interesting thought.

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  1. It’s art for arts sake my friend. Never worry what people will or will not think, for that will never change. I’m just amazed they let him take the shit. It’s not very clear, so perhaps they were unaware?

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