Chance – is it a fine thing?

The supporting notes for Section 3 of BoW start with a discussion of chance in photography, in the context of abandoning yourself to the process…of not starting off with the end too firmly in mind.

In a fairly widely known video clip,  Tim Minchin (Minchin 2013) says:

“…you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.”

I have a fairly large measure of sympathy with this assessment. It’s clearly important to have an eye on the big picture, but equally important to allow yourself the freedom to react to the things that are happening around you.

Once again I find the notes unhelpfully people/documentary centric, concentrating as they do on interactions between people and the photogrpaher. As an example to encourage us to think about chance they cite the work of Sophie Calle – especially Please Follow Me, The Hotel and Take Care of Yourself. Clearly, Calle has started these projects with the end in mind – the images she takes of/information she receives from the various random people in these works are clearly chance in that she had no control over what they did..although she clearly has control over what she captured/published.

In what seems like a side issue we are asked if we think her work was deceitful or intrusive. The answer seems pretty self is yes to both. It is clearly intrusive to secretly photograph people and then publish those images – whether this is good or bad is another issue altogether and depends on our perceptions of the degree of privacy we expect and the frequency and nature of the intrusion. If I were buying some potatoes I doubt I would care about being photographed – if I were engaged in a secret affair I might well feel differently.

Pretending to be a chamber maid made while actually being a ‘working artist’ is clearly a deceit. If they had been my possessions being photographed in my hotel room I would have been a little bit more than annoyed – irrespective of the fact that my ‘hotel possessions’ consist of little more than clothing and photography magazines. Even if she subsequently sought permission to publish it appears to me that such activities simply add weight to the cries for privacy laws which would make art, and especially photography, more difficult for everyone.

That said, there are chance encounters that I might use if they fitted the overall concept of what I was trying to achieve. For example, snatches of conversations I’ve had while out photographing, quotes from unrelated texts that strike a chord with the work, ideas from other artworks – ultimately I think inspiration is a matter of chance, of encountering material that your brain connects to your project in a way that sometimes only you immediately understand.

Minchin, T, 2013. Tim Minchin · Occasional Address. Available at: [Accessed March 12, 2017].


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