Before the Decisive Moment

Exploring the frames just before and after some of my favorite images and the stories behind them.

Lawrence Lazare
Live View
7 min readMay 7, 2024


“Of all the means of expression, photography is the only one that fixes the precise moment. We play with things that disappear and that, once disappeared, it is impossible to revive. For us, what disappears, disappears forever: hence our anguish and also the essential originality of our trade.”

- Henri Cartier-Bresson

When I mention Diane Arrbus’s iconic image, Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C., you can picture it in your mind’s eye. The young boy is staring straight at Arbus with a maniacal look on his face. His right hand is clenched claw-like, while his left-hand holds a toy hand grenade. We imagine Arbus coming upon the boy in Central Park, her trusty Rollei around her neck as she triggers the shutter release, creating the iconic photo seemingly out of thin air.

Yet, if you look at Arbus’ contact sheet, you will see that the image we know so well is the eighth photo Arbus shot of the child. The earlier images on the contact sheet show a sweet young child as Arbus moves around him, apparently provoking some reaction from him.

We like to imagine our photographic heroes creating iconic images with a mastery that allows them to distill a universe into a single frame. But the reality of most great images is that there are likely much less interesting shots taken just before and after the classic photographs we have etched into our minds. It’s a suspension of disbelief that these classic images appeared fully formed in front of the photographer who captured a single perfect frame without working very hard for it.

Of course, capturing great candid images is an art that comes from combining location, lighting, movement, subject, and serendipity into a fully formed image. Most importantly, it’s about sensing what might make for a great image, quickly balancing all the elements needed, and then clicking the shutter repeatedly in the hope that one of your frames will result in an image that tells a great story.

In 2009, I saw an exhibition of Robert Frank’s groundbreaking The Americans at the Smithsonian Institution. The exhibit featured 221 photos of Frank’s landmark portrait of America in the 1950s. Interspersed with the images were 23 contact sheets complete with the artist’s wax pencil markings. Seeing the images was a magical experience, but it was the contact sheets that stopped me in my tracks. Those contact sheets provided me with a glimpse behind the curtain.

Viewing the contact Sheets that contained these icon images allowed me to understand Frank’s process of shooting as it demystified the images. I could see how Frank framed a scene and the figures that populated it as he waited for a decisive moment to occur.

The back cover of “Looking in: Robert Frank’s The Americans”

When it comes to my own street photography practice (or “candid photography as I prefer to call it, to avoid an over-used term), my image-taking usually starts when my eye is drawn by a single element. It might be a specific person, a shadow, a location, or even just when I get the sense that something is about to occur.

Before shooting, I try to determine the setting, lighting, and ambiance that will be conducive to capturing a good image. After looking at a test shot or two, I then go to work on finding a scene worthy of capturing.

Inspired by thoughts of seeing Frank’s contact sheets all those years ago, I decided to go back through some of my favorite candid photos, share the shots that came just before and after the keeper images (which I’ve outlined in red), and share the stories behind those images.

Under Tower Bridge

In 2013, my wife and I spent a couple of weeks in Europe. For that trip, I boldly decided to leave my very heavy Canon DSLR at home and instead shoot only with an iPhone and the Hipstamatic retro camera app. I configured the app to use a high-contrast black-and-white lens and film combination and set about to photograph my first trip to Europe with my iPhone 4s.

“Under Tower Bridge” Just Before/ The Keeper Image / Just After

One afternoon, we were walking along the north side of the Thames when we passed under the Tower Bridge. Drawn by the shadows and the contrast of the cobblestones, I grabbed my phone and started shooting. Soon, we were passed by a group of four teens walking side by side. The contrast of their shadows against the stones led me to follow them with the camera. I stayed in place and continued to shoot as others continued to walk by my wife and me.

Note that if you look closely at the center image, you will see a tiny Starbucks logo. This tiny logo delights me because it melds the old cobblestones along the path by the Tower of London with the modern world.

Jesus Died

Kerry James Marshall is my favorite contemporary artist, and in 2016, I attended his show Mastry at NY’s Met Breuer Museum.

While walking through one of the galleries, I noticed a woman with a tote bag that read “Jesus Died for Somebody’s Sins,” the opening lines to Patty Smith’s debut album Horses. The woman holding the bag reminded me of Smith herself, so I discreetly began shooting images of her as she moved by the paintings in the gallery.

“Jesus Died” Just Before/ The Keeper Image / Just After

The show included Marshall’s masterpiece, Beauty Examined, which shows the anatomical dissection of an African American woman. As the woman with the tote bag walked in front of the painting, she turned so that I could see her profile, and I snapped the image above.

Hassidic Protesters

“Hassidic Protesters” Just Before/ The Keeper Image / Just After

On my way to catch the commuter train home from Grand Central Terminal in the summer of 2016, I heard loud chants on 42nd Street that could only mean one thing: a protest. As I turned onto 42nd Street from Madison Avenue, I saw a sea of Hassidic Jews filling the streets. Protesting the conscription of ultra-orthodox Jews into the Israeli military, with their trademark 19th-century clothing, the scene of the protesting Hassidim looked like it could have been from the year 1921.

Grabbing my trusty iPhone, I started shooting the protest with a Hipstamatic high-contrast B&W lens/film combination when a specific protester caught my eye. Reminding me of Seth Rogan, he held a sign that read “A Jew Is Not a Zionist.” I started circling around him, shooting as I moved, when he locked eyes with me, wearing a Mona Lisa smile.

That decisive moment photo (outlined in red) is one of my favorite photos. The boy on the left and the two men in the foreground form a triangle that draws the eye. Each of the three subjects in the photo are looking in separate directions, with the man with the sign staring right back at me.

Immersed at the Whitney

Shooting candid images at Museums has been one of my main artistic focuses for more than a decade. Earlier this year, F2.8 Press released my first book, a monograph entitled The Museum Gaze, which features 28 of my museum photos, including the image below. The photo was taken at the show Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art.

“Immersed at the Whitney” Just Before/ The Keeper Image / Just After

While viewing the show, I entered a round carpeted room set up to display a video from artist Alex Da Corte. At the center of the room sat a woman wearing boots and a Twiggy-like haircut. She looked as if she had been transported from a scene out of 60’s London. As I began to shoot images discreetly, the video began. The woman with the Twiggy haircut shifted in her chair to watch the video as the room was bathed in a sea of red and purple lights.

All photographs copyright Lawrence Lazare.

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Lawrence Lazare
Live View

Legally blind photographer and former e-commerce product management lead. Now working on a BFA in Studio Art at the University of West Florida. IG:@llazare