The Photographic Moment

Inspired by CINDYPROJECT, I want to meditate on the concept of ‘The Photographic Moment’.

CINDYPROJECT Art Film by Cindy Nguyen

To start, let me quote from Cindy:

1. What is the photographic moment?


“It is a song, a record of the playful dance between photographer and subject.” – Cindy

A photographic moment is 1/125th of a second. That means 125 mini-moments can happen within 1 second!

As photographers, I think we are dancing this delicate tightrope between the fleeting moment and death. As photographers, we desire to immortalize a certain fleeting moment– because we find it personally-meaningful or significant to us.


I really like Cindy’s idea that a photographic moment is a ‘song– a record of the playful dance between photographer and subject.’ Why? A moment is poetic, beautiful, and fleeting all at the same time. And not only that, but a photographic moment records (documents/immortalizes) the “playful dance” between the photographer (person making the photograph) and subject (person being photographed).


Why a dance?

  1. Well, if you’re shooting street photography, the way you move your feet/position in the streets is like dancing. You don’t want to step on your own toes.
  2. A photographic moment (assuming you’re photographing people), cannot be achieved without a subject (a person you’re photographing). A similar analogy holds in dancing– of course you can dance by yourself, but dancing is always more fun when you’re dancing with a partner!
  3. When you photograph your loved one or subject, you’re both reacting to one another, predicting the movements of one another, and you’re making art together!

2. Where is the photographic moment?

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“It is everywhere and nowhere– an attempt to extend that sweet something while surrounding to the transience of life.” – Cindy

Does a photographic moment exist in a physical space or place?

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Photographic moments exist everywhere and nowhere. They exist in your bedroom, they exist in your kitchen, during your commute, or when you’re having dinner with your loved ones.

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Yet at the same time, a photographic moment doesn’t exist in a physical place– because it is a metaphorical concept. A moment isn’t physical– moments permeate our day-to-day experiences and make us who we are.

a. Extending that sweet something

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When we make photos, I think we are trying to “extend that sweet something” — that sweet moment. For example if you’re seeing a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the reason why we make a photograph of it is because we want to extend that sweet moment — we perhaps hope we can continue to live that experience when we go home and look at it later.

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Or when we are photographing our loved ones or children– we are trying to do the same thing. When we photograph our children, we are capturing a snapshot of a moment of their life. They will grow up very quickly– so we want to extend that innocence of their youth. Our parents will probably die before us, so when we photograph them, we are trying to extend their life. And when we shoot selfies of ourselves, we are trying to extend our self-image of ourselves right now, because 10 years from now we will no longer look that way.

b. Life is Transient

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Life is transient; which means, eventually we will die. We never know when we will die. I had a friend named Eddy who died of a brain tumor in his mid 20’s. I had a friend named Simon who got killed in a car accident (Truck driver who was drinking and driving), when he was only 16 years old.

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Philosophically speaking, I think life is only good because it is transient, and because it ends! Anything unlimited isn’t good; everything good isn’t unlimited.

For example, when you play video games, if you have unlimited lives (god mode), the game is boring. The thrill of potentially dying is what makes us a good video game player.

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The same with real life– if we knew that we would live 100,000 years, I think most of us would die of boredom.

However the maximum lifespan of an average human is probably 80’s-90’s years old. Knowing that you will eventually die — ask yourself:

What do I want to photograph/document while I’m still alive? Which of my photos do I want future generations of humans to see?

Don’t be afraid of death; it is the spice of life– without death, we wouldn’t appreciate being alive! Kind of how we wouldn’t appreciate the taste of food without hunger, or how we would never appreciate joy without suffering.

3. Who is the photographic moment?

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“She exudes power in her vulnerability. She speaks, contests, collaborates. She lives [sống] (sống means to live in Vietnamese).” – Cindy

The reason why I think the CINDYPROJECT is so innovative: Cindy is an active collaborator in the project. Cindy is the subject (person being photographed), not a mere object (a passive photo-object).


When I photograph Cindy, she reacts and interacts with the camera. She knows the angle and perspective of the camera, so she knows how to pose. Not only that, but the entire CINDYPROJECT film was edited and directed by her.

As photographers, we yield the photographic power. The camera is a symbol of power, and generally whoever we photograph is the “weaker” subject. This happens especially when men photograph women — men are the powerful individuals with the camera-power-object, and women are the passive photo-objects.

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But with CINDYPROJECT, we sought to fight back against this concept. While Cindy does make herself vulnerable by being photographed and putting herself in the public eye, she also speaks (through her poetry), contests (the way she reacts to the camera), and collaborates (Cindy and I work together; and she is the CEO of HAPTIC INDUSTRIES.

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As a conclusion, never stop remembering that you will die, and you must die (MEMENTO MORI).

You’re only granted a limited amount of metabolism in your life. You will eventually die. Knowing this — how can you best effectively leverage your human metabolism, to document moments which are meaningful to you?



CINDY PROJECT: SONG 1 “SUBJECT NOT OBJECT” is a limited edition photography art portfolio. SONG 1 “SUBJECT NOT OBJECT” is the first published art prints from Eric Kim‘s CINDY PROJECT.

Made in a limited edition of 10 signed portfolios which include:

– 2 art print sheets (4 Eric Kim photographs printed on handmade mulberry textured Zó paper)
– 1 art print (4×6-inch print is made via the ‘Giclée printing’ method, with UltraChrome K3 archival ink on 96-pound matte paper)
– Poetry and Colophon

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