In the 17th century, Jean François Paul de Gondi, cardinal de Retz said: “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.”
In 1952, the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson applied that idea to photography, maintaining that unlike painting, photography happens at a decisive moment. You click the shutter and it’s done. Miss it and it’s gone forever.
The photographers in this exhibition beg to differ.
Stanley Smith says: “The way I work is antithetical to that. I can never decide. I would rather think about how I want a picture to look, and gather the elements together to make that happen. It’s not the traditional approach to photography, but I’m working backwards in the same way that painters or sculptors work backwards: They have a canvas or a hunk of stone, and they start working toward it.”
Smith says he has always been inspired by the work of Jerry Uelsmann, an early pioneer of this type of photography who is prominently featured in this exhibition. Smith was often amazed at Uelsmann’s effects, and baffled as to how he could possibly achieve them.
But Smith’s approach blossomed considerably a decade ago, when digital tools started coming into their own. They allowed him to manipulate, polish and refine as much as his muse desired. In a photograph such as this, then, there is no decisive moment, but instead, thousands.