Joe Hockey was in the flashlight, and he'd had enough. ''Can you do me a favour?'' he asked. ''Enough with the photos … we've done it to death. It's just becoming really annoying.''
You can understand why a Treasurer trying to sell a budget that has just about no buyers would get a bit vexed with a squadron of photographers clicking away. He's a man who sweats, and he was addressing a Council of Social Services luncheon where the audience wasn't keen on the idea that welfare was having a scalpel taken to it.
Hockey is wise to the ways a politician might find himself perceived through the eye of a camera. He knew those photographers were searching for a decisive moment and how, amid the tumult stirred up by his first budget, a river of perspiration coursing down his cheek might look.
Like a decisive moment?
It's the term granted to a style of photography pioneered by Henri Cartier-Bresson, a Frenchman who helped elevate picture-taking during a fair slice of the 20th century from craft to street and battlefield art. He was one of the four founders, in 1947, of the mighty Magnum agency, an international co-operative dreamed up by fellow photographer Robert Capa to grant freelancers the power, for the first time, to control their own work.
In 1952, a book of Cartier-Bresson's work was published. It was called Images a la Sauvette. A rough translation is the rather marvellous ''Pictures on the Sly'', or ''Stolen (Furtive) Images''.
The English version was given the title The Decisive Moment, a term that has stuck ever since and which defines what we know as photo journalism.
''To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression,'' Cartier-Bresson explained.
Later he expanded on the idea in The Washington Post. ''Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.''
There is little quite so distressing as to witness a photographer who has missed the moment, knowing it will never return. I once accompanied Age photographer Jason South to a particularly menacing town in Africa where guerillas, drunk on blood and banana beer, strode about with quivers of rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 rifles strung across their bodies, the streets literally ankle deep with useless hyper-inflated banknotes freshly looted and thrown away. The images were creeping from every corner and there was not another photographer in sight. South, enormously courageous, took picture after picture as the guerillas became increasingly belligerent, pointing guns and demanding we leave.
He had, without doubt, captured numerous decisive moments, but when we made it across the border and he inspected his camera, not one image appeared on the screen. It was an early digital camera and had malfunctioned. South's bleakness was terrible to behold.
He knew the images he had stolen from that dreadful town had been stolen from him. The world, indeed, would be denied pictorial witness to what turned out to be the very first moments of the First Congo War, which became the deadliest conflict in modern history, the Great War of Africa, which would take more than 5 million lives. South went on to become one of Australia's most awarded modern photojournalists and like his colleagues, still reveals to us through their images the world in which we live.
Photojournalists, those who roam the streets and the world, the sharpness and knowing of their eyes more important than the cameras they lug, have defined our times by capturing millions of decisive moments. The little man standing in the path of a tank in Beijing; the homeless person wrapped in rags as the well-heeled stride by; the battle-spent soldier with the thousand-yard stare; the ghastly ballet of bodies falling from the 9/11 towers of New York; the soaring, almost impossible mark of an Australian footballer; disbelief on a trader's face as the stockmarket failed; the triumph of a punter at the Melbourne Cup.
Photojournalists search for extremes of human behaviour, which is why so many of them risk their lives in war, but they winkle out the little moments that tell us about the conditions of our lives and our world, too, and in reflecting truths, invite us to think.
The picture of Aboriginal footballer Nicky Winmar pointing at his own skin, captured 21 years ago by photographer Wayne Ludbey (now of the Herald Sun) and run on the front page of The Sunday Age, jolted a nation. It was the most decisive of decisive moments, the echoes of it still ringing throughout society, yet it might have flickered by, a curiosity, if it had not been for Ludbey's instant understanding of the import of it, defined by the headline ''I'm black and proud of it''.
The best photojournalists (and Australia's media are full of them) use the mirrors within their cameras to reflect who and what we are, or are not. They annoy politicians and others of profile and power because they do not focus on the images those subjects might wish to project. Their best pictures are on the sly, creatively and instinctively stolen in a fraction of a second, just as Henri Cartier-Bresson prescribed.
Enough with the photos? We ought hope not.