The Art of Spontaneity

For sixty years, documentary photographer George S. Zimbel (b. 1929) has been fascinated with capturing spontaneous moments. “Unique among the visual arts,” he writes, “is the ability of  a photographer to incorporate spontaneous action into a  still work.” His favorite photograph, The Goose, exemplifies this idea.

zimbel_george_103_1985George Zimbel, The Goose, New York City, The Bronx, 1958 (103.1985)

zimbel_george_119_1985George Zimbel, Girl and Dog, Queens, New York, 1960 (119.1985)

Like The Goose, many of Zimbel’s photographs have an element of humor. In 35th Street, New York City, Zimbel caught two neighborhood boys, one wearing a traffic cone as a hat. The boys, Butch and Jub Jub, were aggressively hustling cab drivers for spare change as the drivers came in and out of a tire shop. Such spontaneous moments, by definition, cannot be constructed.

zimbel_george_104_1985George Zimbel, 35th Street, New York City, 1954 (104.1985)

In order to capture spontaneousness, Zimbel argues that the photographer must “have a sense of rhythm” and “be in tune” with what is happening in front of the lens. From dancers in an Irish dancehall to Marilyn Monroe, Zimbel has utilized these skills to make photographs that capture the unexpected, fleeting nature of these scenes. In his view, “photography is the art of spontaneity.”

zimbel_george_106_1985George Zimbel, Irish Dancehall, The Bronx N.Y.C., 1954 (106.1985)

zimbel_george_105_1985George Zimbel, Marilyn Monroe, 1954 (105.1985)

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