In 1952, Henri Cartier-Bresson famously gave us the “decisive moment1.” It’s a term that’s been variously interpreted in the intervening 65+ years by countless Photographers, (Cartier-Bresson, himself, re-interprets it, here). Magnum Photographer Stuart Franklin sums it up saying, “all the elements come together: timing, composition, geometry and the situation as I wanted to remember it.” I’ll go with that until I understand it better. As seen in her latest show, “You an Orchestra You a Bomb,” at Robert Mann, Cig Harvey gives us such “decisive moments,” and a few that almost seem “miraculous.”
“I hear babies cry
I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more
Than I’ll ever know.”*
A first walk through of Cig Harvey’s show leaves the impression you’ve walked into a dream. It’s the most personal of dreams, especially since the subject of choice in a number of her Photos is her young daughter, Scout, seen in “Sky Lantern,” above. A muse for the Artist, who, in turn is creating a unique love letter to her daughter the likes of which few children of Artists have received. But, the images are much more.
Each moment, fixed with chemicals on paper, hangs in the air suspended in the ether of being, now given a “life” of it’s own in physical form, ripe with poignancy. In the act of capturing the moment, printing it and hanging it, the moment becomes lasting for as long as you choose to look at it. Ahhh….if only life were like this!
Alas, life, of course, is made up with all kinds of moments. Good, bad, neither good nor bad, some that are portentous, some who’s import is unknown…until later. Looking further, the work has the “deceptive simplicity” seen in her earlier books. Then, I realized it was another case of what Jerry L. Thompson wrote about Walker Evans2, “…he worked hard to make pictures that show deceptively simple facts.” In Cig Harvey’s case, she said that does not mean using Photoshop. Along with these Photos, Ms. Harvey’s writing is brought to the fore, in the book for this show, and on the walls of the gallery where they provide insight and counterpoint.
Both word and image show Cig Harvey is still in touch with being a girl, being a young woman, while being a mother. She’s also well aware of what’s going on in the world, and right around her. Though her work features the gorgeous moments in life, this body of it was born out of another type of moment.
“I see skies of blue
And clouds of white
The bright blessed day
The dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.”*
Cig’s decisive moment happened on Aug 15, 2015 at 7:40. “Somebody drove into me. I was absolutely fine, physically,” she said on January 27th. “The ideas of what could have been sort of played on my mind.” Her car was totaled but, miraculously, only her outlook has been bent/refracted.
I wasn’t aware of what had occurred in 2015 when I first looked at this work. Being a “survivor,” myself, I was drawn to the celebration of the moment I see in her work. In this show, Cig Harvey’s love for life is to be seen everywhere you turn, and that comes across more than anything else. Surviving teaches, I believe, not taking life for granted any longer. Even if you think you didn’t. You realize how lucky you are to have a beautiful moment…a good friend…love…a healthy daughter…life. You feel like a different person. And, you don’t see the world the same way any more. In her Artist’s Talk at Robert Mann on January 27th, she said much the same thing as the genesis for this body of work.
While they are certainly a celebration of youth, beauty, being a girl, being a mom…being alive. The body of work she calls “You an Orchestra You a Bomb,” may, also, be Cig Harvey’s way of holding the “other” kind of moments- the “bad” ones, at bay. Fill your life with the beautiful moments and memories of them and how they made you feel. Yes, moments can bring beauty, or they can bring disaster. Hold on to the good ones, for as long as possible.
A Photograph helps.
*- Soundtrack for this Post is “What A Wonderful World,’ performed by Louis Armstrong, written by Bob Thiele, George Weiss and George Douglas. Speaking of beautiful moments, Louis performs it here in 1967-
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- What’s the “decisive moment?” In his classic book of the same name, Henri Cartier-Bresson says, “To take photographs means to recognize—simultaneously and within a fraction of a second—both the fact itself and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms that give it meaning. It is putting one’s head, one’s eye, and one’s heart on the same axis.” Cartier-Bresson was a founder of Magnum Photos, and you can read more from them on this ambiguous term, here. ↩
- in “Walker Evans At Work,” 1982, P.10 ↩