Submission – Assignment 3 The Decisive Moment

I chose to photograph used pregnancy tests. I think that a pregnancy test is a metaphorical decisive moment – although not recording the actual moment of conception, it is the first tangible proof of pregnancy that most of us see. It’s an object that I think is well recognised by most adults yet is rarely seen outside of media or one’s own bathroom. Like a Polaroid picture, it’s a chemical process, initiated by a trigger, that produces in a physical result on paper. This result can be kept, and will degrade and change over time.

I requested participants on social media, my blog and the OCA discussion board but got best results from more direct approaches. It’s an unusual request to make and there is an euuurgh factor to asking, which made asking awkward even with people who know me, and my work, well. Four women generously gave me permission to photograph eight tests. Some tests were photographed at my home, some were photographed on “house visits” as they were too valuable to leave the house. Two were posted to me. It was logistically challenging and I had the constant (unfounded given my obsessive care) fear of losing tests or confusing tests. Not all the pregnancies went to term so some of the tests were very special indeed, and all are irreplaceable.

I wanted to show both the result of the test at that moment, and how the test has changed over time. I wanted to find an engaging format without the use of people, context or whole-test shots. I used a piece of card for the background and shot with a tripod, narrow aperture and long exposures. I didn’t use flash as some of the tests were very old and had not seen much light. I photographed them with a macro lens. I did no cleaning/wiping/lint-picking on any of the tests, this wasn’t about producing perfect images of pristine tests but embracing the object and the test process as much as the test result; and recognising that even when old, yellowed and speckled with crystals and lint these tests constitute not just decisive moments but also very precious mementoes.

Having taken the photographs I did some minimal work in Lightroom, limited to profile correction, straightening, removing the worst of the sensor marks, cropping where needed, plus some minimal level adjusting. I put a couple of images up for peer review on the OCA Critiques board and was mindful of some feedback about not over-glossing the work. My home printer is not up to the job of making larger prints, so I tried a local lab and wasn’t happy there either. I then tried printing via Loxley Labs as they offered better control of sizing, finish and borders. I was much happier with these prints.

The decisive moment shown in these images is the moment when the results area of each test was the sole focus of someone’s attention, a visible indicator of new life that developed as the test was watched. Each test is a decisive moment that has been kept for weeks, months, years. It’s a decisive moment constructed from a chemical reaction that now bears physical and chemical traces of the intervening time, taking in different homes and places. It’s intriguing to wonder if this indicator of life could sustain life itself. It stops being sterile at the point of opening, could bacteria colonise it once used? I consider this, looking at the different markings and colours on some of the older tests. It would be interesting to look at tests under a microscope and see what was there. I’m wondering how much more magnification I could get if I used extension tubes with my 100mm macro lens, or if I hired a more powerful macro lens.

I’ve thought about whether this work is “decisive moment enough”. It’s more conceptual than “street”, and I could photograph the same test 5 minutes later and get near enough the same image. Tests don’t move, so capturing motion is not a consideration here, and there is only one visible element to each image. However, each is a decisive moment, which changed someone’s life from when the test was unwrapped to when the woman viewed the result. Henri Cartier Bresson described photography as “the simultaneous recognition… of the significance of an event as well as the precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression”. I think these images do show the “significance of the event”, each test becomes a talisman, a proof that the pregnancy is there, and in some sad cases, remembrance that the pregnancy was there, however briefly. Long after the child is born, or the miscarriage memories soften slightly, we retain this tangible memento of the moment when we knew. In keeping them, they age, and we get this perspective of the decisive moment and how it has changed. I was keen to show the physical form of the test too, but to focus on the parts that show the result – the “precise organisation” of the forms that express the result, if you will. I also wanted to show the moment differently to how it’s normally seen – not as an Instagram snap or in a constructed advertisement image.

My research is blogged separately, however the two major strands were Elina Brotheras’ Annunciation series and Nigel Haworth’s Counting Seeds. Both include physical tests, but in a different way to how I chose to photograph them. Presentation was influenced by Taryn Simon’s Contraband and Mary Kelly’s Post Partum Document.

I am quietly happy with this work, it documents a very private moment, and looks at “the thing” of keeping pregnancy tests, and how they change over time.  I would like to have made the background more consistent – it was inconsistent because of the requirement to photograph in different places at different times. I think I could have got the framing more consistent too and minimised cropping. For future development I think it would be interesting to include more tests and also to consider a much closer view – is there life on these tests? I am also going to clean the sensor on my camera as the tiny aperture showed up all the dirt. I would like to try printing these much larger, I think they could work as larger prints as it would show more of the detail. I have submitted them as 6×9 prints with a border.

For pregnancy test research see Assignment 3 research – pregnancy tests

For research on presentation and my plans see

Assignment 3 – How do I want to make this work?

For my initial thoughts see Assignment 3 – initial planning

All links open in a new window.

Cartier-Bresson, H. (2014) Henri Cartier-Bresson: The decisive moment. Germany: Steidl Verlag.




13 thoughts on “Submission – Assignment 3 The Decisive Moment

  1. Catherine December 31, 2016 / 3:51 pm

    I’m really impressed with your presentation and how it shows the different results – a typology with much import. thorough research and plan ning as well Kate. I’m not surprised at your sense of satisfaction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kate January 1, 2017 / 11:14 am

      Thank you very much Catherine. I hadn’t really considered it as a typology but you are right! It came together nicely as a grid. It’s going to my tutor as a set of bordered prints which I’m happy with too. Thank you for your comments Catherine, and Happy New Year!


  2. Stefan J Schaffeld January 1, 2017 / 9:44 am

    Exciting and intriguing – to follow your progress and your post. I can sense your “quietly satisfied” sensation and the ‘aura’ of your subject matter. I find it extremely touching how you ordered the images only distance – assume the distance to your place? By that you included a very personal sense to it, having read an earlier feedback on one of my comments on your own life experience. Well presented and explained, can learn from you. Thanks for the insight!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kate January 1, 2017 / 11:12 am

      Good morning Stefan and Happy New Year to you!
      Thank you for your comment, I am lucky to get such helpful detailed comments on here. Yes, the miles are the miles between someone taking the test and me photographing the test. Sometimes the test came to me, sometimes I went to the test. It was a very personal project and somehow cathartic too although I haven’t really dug into why. I suppose it’s the ongoing processing of a miscarriage some years ago, photographing these tests somehow made me feel less alone there. Anyway, all the tests are back home now and the prints go off to my tutor after the bank holiday weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Stefan J Schaffeld January 1, 2017 / 11:16 am

        Yes Happy New Year to you as well! And a good start – returning home and from home. Wish a creative and life enriching year.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Lottie January 1, 2017 / 10:24 pm

    This is a great write up to support exciting work. It’s been fascinating watching this evolve – in your thoughts, words and images. A brave choice of subject that has richly rewarded you. I like how it has generated further questions still. Well done Kate. This work needs to be out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rob Townsend January 2, 2017 / 8:12 am

    I thought this was an excellent creative response to the brief when you first mentioned it, and your execution of your concept definitely does it justice – it’s a powerful piece of work. On a purely visual level, I love the ones that become borderline abstract art when you look closely – some of these would look fantastic printed very large and hung on a gallery wall. Great work, very well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kate January 2, 2017 / 10:27 am

      Rob, thank you, and Happy New Year. I’m thrilled by your comments, it’s good to know that the work carries meaning. The abstract-ish ones appeal to me too, I would love to either take them larger as you suggest, or down to miniature size, or even find a way to repeat the work but with a microscope, if that’s possible. I’m convinced there must be layers more of interest down there. Thank you again.


  5. dawn54 January 2, 2017 / 12:33 pm

    Happy new Year Kate. It is great to see how the project has evolved. I think it is a very imaginative approach to the brief and I admire you for taking on something so intensely personal. I imagine it was not an easy question to ask! Have the women who shared their tests seen the images? I just wonder how they have responded. Like Rob I think they would look great on a large scale.


    • Kate January 2, 2017 / 5:26 pm

      Happy New Year to you too Dawn, and thank you for commenting. You have reminded me that not everyone who shared their tests had seen the images so I have just emailed out to them. The feedback that I have had has been very positive. I hope they do all like them, I know I was happy with how they turned out. Yes, it was not an easy question to ask, and my poor friends have been asked all manner of questions since I started studying with the OCA. Actually the asking and getting sufficient numbers was I think the hardest part of the whole gig, the rest was vision, technique and making a selection. I hope very much to try at least one or two much larger for rework, there’s also the option of making a couple of miniatures and there was also a good suggestion for life-size prints in a plastic tube (made on the Critiques board on the OCA discussion area).

      Liked by 1 person

    • Kate January 11, 2017 / 8:55 am

      Thank you Gabriela!


  6. Kate January 18, 2017 / 6:51 pm

    This comment was received by email and is reproduced here with permission.

    Hi Kate,

    I have just read your Assignment and wanted to send a personal note and response.

    Firstly congratulations on such an evocative piece of work. I was instantly transported back to those individual moments when I took my own pregnancy tests. I had two failed pregnancies in my younger years but never kept them like I have done with the tests for Ben and Mia. Thank you for helping me remember those forgotten moments.   

    I believe this body of work has the potential to grow tremendously and more importantly help women remember their own decisive moment.

    Liked by 1 person

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