Thursday, 5 November 2009

An Indecisive Moment

I was sent a great new book for work yesterday called The Contact Sheet that shows a whole host of great photographers' best shots, with a look at the images that came before and after it on the film. There's variations on Dorothea Lange's famous migrant mother, some typically bright seaside images from Martin Parr and a whole reel of shots of Marilyn Monroe.

Lovely stuff an'all, but it reminded me how often the best photographers used an entire film to capture a single image. With my shots by Stephen Nelson currently being developed, it made me wonder whether he has shot 36 very varied masterpieces or simply one decisive moment amid 35 near misses? I guess I'll find out soon enough. I think this has impacted on my own shooting with Ricoh though. Having got used to the disposability of digital photography, I'm deliberating over each click of the shutter a whole lot more because I want to be handing over as many worthwhile or interesting images as possible to the next person who takes Ricoh on his way. For better or worse, this adventure is making me take photographs in a different, more considered way.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Corn Flakes and Uranus

Corn Flakes. Vulcanised rubber. Post-It notes. The planet Uranus. Ricoh. All of these things were invented, discovered or won by me as a result of serendipitous events. Ok, so the last one is perhaps less impressive but in my own little world it was quite something. And I've been thinking about my own flash of serendipity at the Free Art Fair a lot this week. Starting this adventure is hardly on a par with revolutionising breakfast or finding Uranus but, like Haruki Murakami says, chance encounters are what keeps us going.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, serendipity is one of the ten most difficult English words to translate. Like the German word schadenfreude, it's an intangible yet relatively straightforward concept that nevertheless doesn't have an equivalent word in many languages.
Yet it is still a fairly universal concept, and not one that you would think is an exclusively British occurrence.

Winning the artwork wasn't the only case of it here either. Sure, that was a lucky moment anyway, but so was going to the Barbican in the first place (I had arranged to meet a friend elsewhere), so was spotting Stephen Nelson's work before it was packed away (I'd only managed to see about six of the 50-odd works on display) and so was returning from lunch in time to hear my name called (any later and I would have been stood there for the duration, unaware it had ever come up). The whole afternoon was like one big pile up of coincidences, a domino effect triggered by my own susceptibility to happenstance.

And I think susceptibility is the key to all this. If you don't leave yourself open to these little chance encounters, maybe they will never happen. All of the people in the Barbican foyer for the Free Art Fair (see below) came hoping for a fortuitous moment and, for some of them at least, it came. That hope is what keeps the best photographers going too. Everyone is hoping to snap a chance encounter, that decisive moment which no one else has been privy to. Because Cartier-Bresson wouldn't have been such a great photographer if he had sat at home and waited for the inspiration to come. I've realised that if my own photography is going to work, I've got to take my lens cap off a bit more often and put myself out there.

Image courtesy Nabi Khatibi