Not your (photographic) day

If you are a photographer of even modest experience you will recognise this day. You have the opportunity (your family are otherwise engaged, work presents you with a window, you find yourself travelling and have time in your schedule). You have made all the decisions you need to in terms of equipment and media. Your bag is packed. It's your most familiar MO you will be using. You are on home ground. You are hungry. You are in the aesthetic mode, ready to capture the most glorious gifts that the gods of photography have in store.

You set out, you shoot. You shoot some more. At first: nothing. You have seen this before! You persevere. Still nothing. You have some experience, you know this sometimes happens. You remind yourself that it is important to go through the motions sometimes, to suspend your pressing desire to realise a convincing image. You keep going. You get tired. You get a little annoyed and frustrated.

And then it dawns on you: today is not your day. No amount of shooting, no amount of wanting, will make it happen. It's just not meant to be.

When this happens, what do you do? Do you just park the disappointment and move on? Do you have an interesting strategy, a little self-psychology? Is it time to break out the camera catalogue for bit? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Photography advertising, the invisible influence

The other day I came across a reproduction of a Leica advert from the late 1990s. They were advertising the then latest incarnation of the famous Leica rangefinder, the M6 TTL. As you might expect, the advert is aspirational and contains a carefully crafted studio shot of the camera.
The advert got me thinking about photography advertising, and more specifically its influence on me. We live in a world of sublimated desires driven by consumer advertising. We might not always reflect consciously on the effects of advertising, but they are measurable and real, as the gargantuan advertising budgets of the multi-national corporations attest.
What if my regard for my Leica M6 TTL was a product, albeit an indirect one, of this advert from the late 1990s? I don’t think I remember it specifically, and yet it has something of an uncanny familiarity. I had a little chuckle to myself, rolling this possibility around in my head. It may not be the whole story - I should hope not, a big chunk of my practice nought but the fulfilment of a market instruction - but there is a strong possibility that my desires were at some level shaped by the adverts of the time. It is sometimes said that we acquire in later life the cameras we once lusted after in our youth and when money was too short to make the dream a reality.
I wonder what other photography advertising has helped to shape my choices and paths through equipment and practice? I wonder which ones have shaped yours?

Embracing serendipity

Every year when working with my students in the darkroom, I try to encourage a thought process that is as receptive to unintended results as intended ones. This is not always an easy endeavour, and it occurred to me this year that I lack a clear label for the kind of approach I want them to take. Quite often, what I mean becomes evident only when it is found.

We speak a lot about planning in education (we live in a ‘target’ driven world it seems), but not so much about the pleasure of the unplanned, of what one discovers through doing, even when one wasn’t looking for it.

On one happy day when one of my students had the unplanned event revelation, I at last came up with a satisfactory term: ‘serendipity’. Now, before I unpack the term a little (and I will not insult your intelligence; insert ‘happy accident’ and you have my gist), I will add some photographic seasoning with a specific darkroom reference.

In his book Black and White Photography Workshop, master printer John Blakemore tells the story of how he came to work on a new series of especially pale prints. On the day in question, he had intended to do something quite different, but, on realising he lacked the supplies he needed to print in his ordinary manner, set himself the challenge of printing his negative as pale as possible. You can (and should) check the results out yourself, for they are quite exquisite. A fortuitous set of circumstances that led to an unexpected path, a new way of working.

So, finally to serendipity. The term was coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole. He recounted the tale of the ‘Three Princes of Serendip’ who ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of’. This could almost be a darkroom mantra! Be open to those discoveries, gained by accident or sagacity (or, we might say, ignorance), of results you weren’t after, but might rather like.

An awareness of serendipity shouldn’t be limited to just darkroom, of course. I wonder how many other aspects of our photography work would benefit from a little of these ‘things we were not in quest of’?