In my previous post on Irish photographer Bob Carlos Clarke (see Dreams of Desire 56 (Bob Carlos Clarke), I briefly mentioned his documentary series of photographs of drunken, loved up teenagers making out at debutantes balls in London in the mid-nineties. The photographs are now on exhibition in London’s The Little Black Gallery until May 26th, 2018, under the collective title The Agony & the Ecstasy, so now seemed like the right time to share these remarkable images which so vividly capture ‘the decisive moment‘, (in the terms of his hero Henri Cartier-Bresson) of these heedlessly hedonistic youths and, on occasion, their passed over friends.
As a photographer Clarke appears to be obsessed with the mediums ability to preserve a fleeting instance from the inexorable passage of time, which, as everyone knows (though we spend most of our time avoiding this unpleasant fact), destroys all things. Hence the undeniably voyeuristic obsession with the intensely transitory phenomena of beauty and youth, which decidedly adds to the poignancy and pathos of these images of ghosts from nightlife past.
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.