Marching Ghosts

This striking photograph by Lois Hobart of several ghostly legs and blurred bodies was shot during the New York City Columbus Day Parade of 1945. The camera was set up on a tripod and the image was shot with a very slow shutter speed to blur the marchers as they sped past the photographer down Fifth Avenue.  All that can be seen of them is the one leg positioned on the ground as their other leg and entire bodies are blurred while they swing forward.  This photograph is fascinating because usually people try not to create blurry photographs.  The goal of most photographers is a crisp, in focus photograph.  By blurring the marcher’s movement, Hobart captured the energy and motion of the parade, even though the picture’s subjects are almost completely removed!

This photograph illustrates what Henri Cartier-Bresson referred to as the “decisive moment”: an image in which several elements come together for a fraction of a second while the photographer is pressing the shutter and freezing the moment onto film for eternity.  It’s a moment that can never be replicated and almost seems to be purely chance, but is really the product of great skill on the photographer’s part.  If Hobart had released the shutter a fraction of second sooner or later, either much more or much less of the marchers’ bodies would appear.  They could even be completely removed from the photograph all together.  And, if the marchers were moving even a little faster or slower or if the shutter speed was faster or slower, the photograph would be completely different.  This is the “decisive moment” that  engages you and remains in your memory.

Shot in the middle of Grand Central Station in 1928, this shot also explores the use of long shutter speeds to show the passage of time.   It shows many travelers moving through the station on the way to their trains, most of whom become just small blurs in the foreground.  The only people who are truly visible were standing either completely or mostly still for the duration of the shot.  Any person walking or running through the station to catch a train is only recorded as a haze of legs and feet.  The blurred movement gives the feel and energy of Grand Central Station in transit.

One response to “Marching Ghosts

  1. Great, loving the concept of the ‘decisive moment’. With technology giving us greater and greater precision over our images, ‘photographic accidents’ – whether desired or otherwise – remind us of other dimensions in the photographic arts.

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