Going all academic on ya…

I like to challenge myself and do read the occasional academic paper. Just stumbled on a new one that explores an old and much loved theme: The Decisive Moment.

This concept was hammered into my teenage brain in community college by the great Edwin Schwyn, who rocked and ruled the photography department at San Joaquin Delta College in the 60s and 70s (and beyond). The Decisive Moment, first conceived of by French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson,

Leaping deer

Leaping deer

is the peak moment in an image, where it all comes together. Stalking that decisive millisecond took patience, technical skills, and intuitive aesthetic abilities, all of which Schwyn rammed down our throats on a daily basis. As a result, I lived and dreamed in black and white and hopes of capturing images that would earn me a “well done” from my idol.

Now, 45 years later, Joshua Sarinana has explored this theme in depth in an article titled The Decisive Moment and the Brain.

When motor skills related to a specific task are learned, the motor cortex disengages, and the unconscious processing of the basal ganglia carries out the motor behaviors. What’s interesting is that once this motor skill is unconscious, trying to be conscious of the motor skill often impairs performance. Pretend that you’re walking. Now think about how you walk. Does your right hand move with your right leg, or does it move with the opposite leg? Simply being aware of this as you walk often trips people up. Basically, you don’t need to overthink what you already know.

This comes into the category of “I don’t know what I know”…things that are learned so well they recede into the background, even though they are used daily. Whenever anyone asks how to become a better videojournalist/videographer, I tell them, “Practice, practice, practice.” Learn the skills you need so well that your very body has memorized them and you can focus on what you need to do, what you need to see and capture.

This is a complex article on a simple subject and Sarinana takes the reader through the physiology of how capturing the Decisive Moment works in our brain and bodies. Well worth the struggle to get through it.


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