What I was ultimately trying to achieve was an ability to capture what Henri Cartier-Bresson called "the decisive moment." "Photography is not like painting," Cartier-Bresson told the Washington Post in 1957. "There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative," he said. "Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever."
For me, if operation of the camera - whether a Leica III or a Soviet version of the remarkable Contax II - became intuitive, requiring little thought about the mechanical, then one could devote more attention to realizing the artistic potential of the medium.
Occasionally I felt as if I achieved some success. For example, I was able to capture my kids in some images that are spontaneous and say so much about their personalities. Walking around the city, camera in hand, realizing that kind of spontaneity proved a bit more elusive. But sifting through some of my prints recently, I came across one image that really illustrated that equation of luck, good light, and appropriate subjects that equals an interesting photograph.
I had been walking through Central Park, down the Mall, with the Bethesda Fountain as my destination. Stopping at the parapet which overlooks the fountain, I looked down and saw a bride in white, walking from one of the frequent photo shoots at the fountain, moving from bright sunlight, into the dark shadows cast by the parapet. I grabbed the camera, made an educated guess at the aperture and exposure time based on the conditions, focused, and snapped the picture. I had time for only one shot: a second later the bride had disappeared into the arched recesses under the parapet. When I had the photograph developed, I was pleasantly surprised by the results. So, what story line, if any, can one infer from this photograph? I was especially pleased with the level of contrast between the bright sunlit areas and the shadows. Also, the resolution on her dress is a testimony to the quality of the German lens, given that I was probably 50 to 60 feet away, using a standard 50 mm lens. I can tell you one thing: None of my digital cameras would have yielded this image.