Monday, 24 November 2008

Happy accidents - are they such a bad thing?

This last weekend saw me undertake one of my favourite kinds of assignments - event photography.

The brief itself was very straight forward and called for general coverage capturing the location, the guests, the atmosphere. My initial set-up is nearly always the same for this type of work - 2 camera bodies, each with flash, and lenses covering ultra-wideangle to telephoto. I will be writing about this shoot at a later date, but for now I want to take a more artsy-philosophical route...

There comes a point within any shoot of a certain duration, involving battery-powered equipment, when your batteries are going to fail. Of course I always keep plenty of spares in my case, but the fact remains that it does happen. And not always at the most opportune time. Nine times out of ten, I will have noticed a drop in technical performance or, specifically with lighting equipment, longer recycling times between flashes, and so I can preempt the situation to avoid missing a picture. Sometimes, however, this shortfall in the technology creaps up on you out of the darkness of the music-driven night...

The pictures in this post come as the result of this apparent 'failure'. They are accidents, they were not supposed to exist, and they most certainly do not fit in with 99% of all the images created that night. In theory (ahh, theories...), they are not technically proficient - insofar as the flash failed to fire, meaning they are darker and show more movement than intended. Of course I could easily have produced these results deliberately, but such images were not on my 'to do' list. For a start, anyone who was present at the party most likely would not have recognised the place!

But you know what? I like them. I like them for their atmosphere, for their richness of colour, for their ambiguity even. I like them for what they are. Plain and simple. And what's more, I make no apologies for this - or for admitting to having taken them. This sort of thing happens all the time in our industry - it's just that the majority of photographers keep these 'happy accidents' to themselves. I seem to recall there was one particular news picture, a few years back, which won a major competition (could it have been the World Press Photo Awards?). It was 'taken' when the fleeing photographer tripped and accidentally fired his camera which was hanging at waist height.

But does that make it any less of a picture, any less worthy of the prize? After all, the guy was there, in the thick of the action, covering the events as they played out in front of him. The resulting image may not have been what he would think to produce (either technically or aesthetically), but it was competent nonetheless.

There is, of course, an age-old deabte - centred around the question "What makes a good photograph?" Is it technique? Timing? Or could the simple act of being in the right place at the right time have something to do with it? You see, that's the great thing about photography - and about the creative arts in general. There is plenty of room not just for experimentation, personal interpretation, and technical variation - but for happy accidents, too. I say we embrace the latter and just remind ourselves what the purpose of a photograph ultimately is.

Please let me know your thoughts - by following the 'comments' link below.

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