But then something changes! Maybe, she says, I’m at the right place at the right time. Or maybe it’s because she starts to believe in it. But for a split second, she sees a sparkle of beauty passing by and then everything goes so quickly within that stillness and she’s carried away…
at last she likes what she is seeing and she can’t stop finding it and then losing it. All day long she keeps on, because it once existed.
And that is absolutely the process for me of taking photographs. Chasing something I see that lasted a second. A moment of grace. A moment of beauty. Sometimes it can never be recaptured. Sometimes it’s gone, disappeared, never to return. But I’ll tell you what….. I’m going to die trying.
Sarah Moon Thoughts
Yes, the moment that might or might not happen. The gift that doesn’t depend on us. The best we can do is to be ready – and that’s the hardest. All the efforts we invest, the intensity, the waiting, the hoping are not enough. Sometimes we work like mad, for hours, in vain, and then all of a sudden, in three minutes, at the right place, the right moment, from the right angle, a stroke of luck expresses what we wanted to say.
I’ve often envied those who photograph life. I avoid it. I start from nothing. I make up a story, which I leave untold. I imagine a situation, which doesn’t exist. I wipe out the space to invent another. I shift the light. I rend everything unreal. And then I try. I watch out for what I didn’t expect. I wait to see what I can’t remember. I undo what I put together. I hope for hazard. But more than anything, I long to be struck as I shoot.
I realize there are many questions about photography that I have never asked myself. Perhaps I keep myself from asking them. At the beginning, there was a sort of drive in my quest, possibly because I didn’t know what I was looking for. Then, when my photos began to be accepted, I became aware of certain things, a little as in psychotherapy, where the analyst doesn’t give you explicit answers, but refers you back to what you have expressed, and that in turn changes your outlook.
It is true that when I create a frame, a setting, I always expect that within that frame some accident or some surprise will come up. To seat someone on a chair, for example, can be the beginning of a photo, even though it may not mean much by itself. But if I say, possibly only to communicate with the model: “You sit on this chair, and you are waiting, as if you were on a platform at a railway station,” that may introduce the sense of an event, may help me to create the feeling of a situation. Perhaps it is only a device that I need for myself. But now I feel disturbed by what you say, by its expression of reluctance, as if for you the idea of staging is negative, a minus rather than a plus.
And possibly the fact that I tell a story with a beginning and an end, instead of letting each image, by itself, suggest a beginning and an end. Repetition gives a key, and with that key, one no longer feels the same curiosity. I agree with that. Very often I say to myself: “I would like to make a photo where nothing happens.” My dream would be to achieve that purity. But in order to eliminate, there must be something there to begin with. For nothing to happen, something has to happen first. When I work on a set, with a lot of props, I end up by throwing most of them out, or by mixing them up, or by using mirrors so that one doesn’t know what is part of the set and what isn’t. I would like to get rid of all the make-up, so that the make-up would be forgotten, to take off all the clothes. I spend my time eliminating things, with the hope that there will be something left that will surprise me, that will make me forget that I am in a studio, in front of a model that I have booked, on a set on which I have spent hours fussing, with lights that it has taken a whole day to set up. Ultimately, what makes me press the shutter is a feeling of recognition. As if suddenly I felt: “yes, that’s it ”. In fact, these are the very words that come to my lips. I “recognize” something that I had never seen until that moment, that is beyond all my intentions. As in that photo of the polka-dot dress, with Suzanne’s back. What I like about it is its weight. It was a moment when I was photographing something else. Suddenly I turned around and there it was. That’s what I mean by “a gift”.
It happens so fast. And a second later I’m not sure any more that it has happened. At a given moment, I tell everyone: “That’s it, we have finished!” but then I ask them to stay for one more roll, just in case, and then for another one. Because I am always afraid of having missed something, in spite of all the trouble I took to bring together all those elements, which tomorrow won’t be there. The passing of time makes me panic. When I feel moved by the beauty of a young woman, what overwhelms me is the impermanence, the feeling that it must be captured in that particular instant. I see beauty appearing and disappearing, and I feel disheartened, because I am never sure that I live up to the privilege, that I do what has to be done to convey what I saw. Our anguish, our feeling of guilt stems from the knowledge that it depends on us, on our way of seeing what’s in front of our eyes. Not only that particular sitting seems too short, not only that working day, but our whole life as photographers, we are always afraid that it may already be over. Maybe I shouldn’t go too long without working, my engine should run every day, because when it doesn’t, I don’t give myself a chance to make things happen. I should accept the risk of failure, tell myself that failure is not the worst: even though I can’t afford failing an assignment, I have at least the right to fail what I do for myself. I should simply say to myself: “Every day I’m going to make a photo.