The (in)decisive Moment: Photographers Research – Philip-Lorca DiCorcia

26th May 2021

SERENDIPITY: The fact of finding interesting or valuable things be chance.


When in Berlin, Calcutta, Hollywood, New York, Rome and Tokyo, he would often hide lights in the pavement, which would illuminate a random subject in a special way, often isolating them from the other people in the street. His photographs would then give a sense of heightened drama to the passers-by accidental poses, unintended movements and insignificant facial expressions. Even if sometimes the subject appears to be completely detached to the world around him, diCorcia has often used the city of the subject’s name as the title of the photo, placing the passers-by back into the city’s anonymity.

All About (s.d.)

There are two series of diCorcia’s that interest me and which also relate extremely well to the work that I am planning to complete for Assignment 3: The (in)decisive moment. These series are titled, ‘Heads’ (2000-2001) and ‘Streetwork’ (1993-1997), both documenting pedestrians in city streets. Both series work well because diCorcia uses the concept of the decisive moment. ‘The decisive moment refers to capturing an event that is ephemeral and spontaneous, where the image represents the essence of the event itself’, Sarinana (2013).

Both of the series, ‘Heads’ and ‘Streetworks’ used artificial lighting in the form of strobe flashes which were set up to synchronise with the cameras shutter. These bursts of light highlighted the heads or the figures, depending on which series we are looking at, and in doing so the subjects are seen in great detail.

In the ‘Heads’ series the subjects stand out from their surroundings due to their position within the composition and the use of the strobe flash which illuminates the heads and isolates them from their surroundings. The backgrounds to the images are pre-dominantly dark and any other pedestrian caught in the shot are either receding into the background or are out of focus.


For me personally it is the Streetwork series that has really given me lots of information to think about. Because the images are taken in the daylight people do not notice or pay attention when the flashes go off. Like me diCorcia does not speak to the people that he photographs, there is no interaction before, during or after the photograph has been taken. While he was on a panel for a talk hosted by the ‘Aperture Foundation in 2018’, he stated that the common dominator in street photography is that we use people.

The lighting in his busy Streetwork series highlights people in the foreground and freezes them in the moment, showing life as it is just for that second, in real terms. There is no staging in this series just the photographers eye which clicks the shutter at a chosen time within the pre-determined choice of a location. This is what makes these images so dynamic to me they show reality, unstaged, unplanned and raw, the real thing.

With the foreground people highlighted those around them, within crowds, gradually recede into the world around them which is often full of glorious city architecture, bustling with visual information ,shapes, colours and text. The rawness of the subjects caught in the image that shows a second of their life is dramatically emphasised by the flash of light on them.

The overall effect is like a scene from a film, exciting and full of energy and movement, almost three dimensional with the layers that are formed from the artificial lighting and this light also focuses on a main subject matter which the viewers eyes automatically jump to.

If we look closer at the composition, the figures look as though they are shot from chest height because the viewers eyes are drawn in just below the subjects heads, shoulder height. This perspective could also have been obtained if diCorcia used a telephoto lens. By capturing some of the subjects at this height the viewer becomes part of the crowd on the street looking on at the people in front of them.

Often the subjects have been cropped, a natural occurrence in street photography when the subjects are moving around you and this is how we would also acknowledge people if we were standing and moving with them. Only those in the distance would be seen at full height and those closest to us will have their lower body parts cut from our gaze.

The diagrams below look at a few of diCorcia’s Streetwork images in relation to composition and technique.

Fig. 1 Tokyo, 1998
Fig. 2 Tokyo, 1998


DiCorcia’s series Streetwork shows modern life and it’s people in a stylistic creative way. The addition of the flashes add a cinematic impression to the compositions. The images often have the sense of three-dimensionality which is achieved through the layers of information contained within the foreground, mid-ground and background.

Within each image diCorcia has highlighted a pre-determined area in which somebody will walk and using the decisive moment as a tool for his compositions, he chooses when to press the shutter to create his image. He captures his main subjects in full body and those around them may be caught as parts, with legs cropped off as well as other body areas. Just as our eyes do not always take in the fullness of everybody’s form within our view, neither does diCorcia’s images, therefore adding visual reality within his compositions.

Although I am attracted to diCorcia’s creative images I am still drawn towards producing images that document life’s reality, with all of its rawness.


ACADEMIC TALK: Tuesday Evenings at the Modern – Philip Lorca diCorcia

HEADS: Philip-Lorca DiCorcia – Exposed at Tate Modern

HEADS: Head #10 – MoMa Learning

STREETWORK: “Eyes on the Street”: Street Photography in the Twenty First Century


Fig. 1 diCorcia, P. (1998) Tokyo, 1998. [Photograph and diagram] At: (Accessed 08.06.21)

Fig. 2 diCorcia, P. (1998) Tokyo, 1998. [Photograph and diagram] At: (Accessed 08.06.21)



“Eyes on the Street”: Street Photography in the Twenty First Century (2018) [Panel discussion] At: (Accessed 08.06.21)

Philip-Lorca DiCorcia – Exposed at Tate Modern (2010) [Documentary] At: (Accessed 26.05.2021)

Tuesday Evenings at the Modern – Philip Lorca diCorcia (2015) [Academic talk] At: (Accessed 28.05.2021)


All About (s.d.) Philip-Lorca DiCarcia. At: (Accessed 26.05.2021)

ASX (2015) Philip-Lorca diCorcia: Reflections on ‘Streetwork’ 1993-1937. At: (Accessed 30.05.21)

MoMa Learning (2021) Head #10. At: (Accessed 26.05.2021)

Sarinana, J. (2013) The Decisive Moment and the Brain. At: (Accessed 09.05.2021)

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