From serendipity to bahramdipity

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by ajhingel, Jan 7, 2012.

  1. Serendipity, bahramdipity - neither of these terms might be in common use and yet they designate one of the most important and challenging forces in play for all photographers as well as for all creative beings.
    Serendipity is the capacity of discovering things in life that we were actually not look for. Something beside the expected. In photography we have seen it in many just in time shots, shots that mostly cannot be closely planned, but happen as a lucky strike. Many innovations and inventions are based on serendipity. The interesting thing is that some people seem to tumble over such events and occasions continuously and others might rarely.
    My question is what we, as photographers, can do to maintain and even develop the capacity of serendipity and not fall or stay in the trap of bahramdipity, which is the exactly the opposite ?
    A known example of how to potentially destroy serendipity can be found in the "kind" (and sometimes useful) service, search machines on internet provide to us all of targeting our search efforts on the basis of passed activities on the web or the increasing social networks of 'friends" among which many slowly concentrate communication because of commonality of views, politics, experiences etc. The happy event of falling on something new and unexpected is becoming less frequent.
  2. Anders, how much, to what degree would you hold photography itself responsible for this dearth of serendipity?
    If you imagine serendipity as something one mines or harvests, and one of the best tools for working that mine or field is the camera and you give cameras to 3 billion people, then perhaps its reasonable to expect a diminished supply of that kind of serendipity that is available to said 3 billion cameras? The unexpected turns into the expected unexpected and finally into the expected expected. Serendipity, as it is currently defined, is expected. To get out of that rut, one needs to re-work the definition to be something other than about the expected/unexpected.
  3. Julie, you always manage to choose the most difficult option. "Being something other" does in my mind not help me out, if I walk down a street that I have passed hundreds of times and I only see - what I have seen hundreds of times. I'm still in my shoes ! What I can do is to pass in a another, more unknown street or, of course, travel to a new and unexplored place on earth - or drink a cognac more than usual when I grasp my camera!
    Whether the 3 billion and their cameras change anything, I'm not sure. I'm not going to make the effort to look at their trillions of photos, anyway.
    Maybe we photographers are member of a specie that still to a certain degree keep serendipity alive, because seeing new subjects, events, lights, colors perspectives - is part of our inherent approach. Howver, also in photography , the unexpected is not always what is "expected" or appreciated even by experts and trained viewers of photography. Their are norms and traditions also in the photographical trade if we are to be taken seriously. The ongoing threads on acceptable degrees of post-processing is an example.
  4. Anders, but don't you often get, when you look at really good photographic work, a feeling of "YES!"; a feeling that it's exactly right, that it's something you somehow already knew but didn't know you knew? Which would make it not unexpected at all; just unrecognized until that really good picture showed it to you?
  5. If one is constantly involved in research of unknown/unexplained phenomena or innovation of new applications then serendipity may play a greater role in one's life than if one is involved with well known/well tread subjects or phenomena. The photographer who questions much of what he does, or lurks into unfamilar subject territory, may well experience more serendipitous moments than one who is mainly applying standard methods to oft photographed subjects.
  6. My question is what we, as photographers, can do to maintain and even develop the capacity of serendipity and not fall or stay in the trap of bahramdipity, which is the exactly the opposite ?​
    One thing I try to do is be aware of my peripheral vision. Even when my eye is up to the viewfinder, I try to have an awareness of what's going on beyond that. Often something serendipitous is just outside the frame or about to come into it.
    Another is that I try to think of what might otherwise be considered distractions as possibilities. Sometimes, things that at first feel like they don't belong can actually add a lot of energy to a photo. It is the out of order that is often serendipitous and often eschewed by the photographer attempting to organize the world inside a frame.
    Thirdly, I sometimes try to do something as simple as keeping myself and the camera moving or encouraging my subject to keep moving. Movement causes many accidents.
    You used "discovery" in speaking of serendipity and I think that's a key.
    "Chance favors the prepared mind." --Pateur
    Serendipity can and does add spice even to the most posed and planned shot. It's not about planning or not planning, IMO. It's about a state of openness and discovery, being accutely sensitive regardless of the plan, forethought, or pre-visualization.
    Even search engines can yield a lot of serendipity. The reason I love google, etc. is that I so often get sent on tangents and do, in fact, discover useful things I wasn't originally looking for. I find my google experiences full of serendipity, as are many of my Internet research experiences. That's often why they take me ten times longer than they needed to.
  7. Anders, following in the spirit of the photograph lying, which was being discussed recently in Casual Conversations, a photograph can probably be infused with a feeling of serendipity by a keen photographer or by an imaginative viewer even if nothing serendipitous actually took place.
  8. One thing I try to do is be aware of my peripheral vision. Even when my eye is up to the viewfinder, I try to have an awareness of what's going on beyond that.​
    Try using the rear LCD, it's a whole new way of seeing, especially to your peripheral awareness:)
    The reason I love google, etc. is that I so often get sent on tangents and do, in fact, discover useful things I wasn't originally looking for​
    I often do the same search using yahoo and bing as well as google...Try it sometimes:)
    Me? I often would take different routes, even to the same destinations and I always carry a digicam with me almost everywhere...My digicam to dslr ratio is maybe 20-1. Furthermore, I try (but not overtly) to befriend folks from various sexuality/ethnicity/culture/age/class...
  9. If serendipity means literally discovering by accident, than we can't really "develop" a capacity for it, can we. We can't "cause" accidents to happen in order to exploit them in other words. I agree with Fred's quote from Pasteur: "chance favors the well prepared" which I think is the best we can do. Being well prepared I think comes from experience where we have done things over and over so many times it becomes automatic.
    I do think that serendipity is somewhat different from things like "seeing" a nice sunset on a particular location and photographing it. To me that's just having a good eye for things.
    I do have an example of a shot that came from serendipity. I had already framed up a shot of my favorite tree roots by the river. The camera was on a tripod and I took a couple of shots. Right at that time my dog, Lily, who often accompanies me on trips to the woods with my camera, happened to walk into the shot after a dip in the river. I automatically took the shot with her in it, and it has become one of my favorite photographs. Its not the kind of thing I would have tried to set up, but when I saw her in the frame I knew right away this was interesting.
  10. "chance favors the well prepared"

    If serendipity means literally discovering by accident, than we can't really "develop" a capacity for it, can we. We can't "cause" accidents to happen in order to exploit them in other words.​
    Chance also favors those whom take chances. Whether how one defines serendipity (expected, caused, etc...or not), one has a better chance going out with a camera than not...
  11. I think most photographers do what Skinner's pigeons did when they received a set (or later random) interval of reinforcement: Engage in low (or no) brow superstitious behavior over which they later plaster an overlay of reason and logic to make themselves Masters and Commanders of their luck and the bright boys they think themselves to be. Only a tiny handful science anything out, and can only do so by thinking statistically.
    Whether chance favors you or not, the key is in recognizing it as an anomaly. Personally, I think the golden ring tweaks our noses on a nearly non-stop basis, but we (myself included) are too blind/deaf/dumb to notice.
  12. "Being something other" does in my mind not help me out, if I walk down a street that I have passed hundreds of times and I only see - what I have seen hundreds of times."

    Nothing new, different, interesting? Perhaps it is your seeing, not the scene, that does not change.
  13. Serendipity doesn't come to those who wait for it? Routine is not conducive to serendipity? Serendipity is an intimate thing?
    At present, 50-60% of all my photography is down to serendipity - I might know where I'm going, but what's going to present itself for my photography is anybody's guess. Having said that the slope of the graph is going down - perhaps I'm just becoming a miserable cynical old sod - been there, seen it, photographed it.
  14. Luis, I'm not sure what you're getting at when you talk about photographers making themselves Masters and Commanders of their luck. It may be something akin to what I'm about to wonder about.
    Something I notice is a tendency, not just in photography, to make so-called serendipitous events into more than they are, either by romanticizing them or by spiritualizing them. Events are results of previous events. They are links in a chain. We impose different kinds of specialness on them depending on circumstances. The camera is so well suited for serendipity because cameras (and the photographers who use them and the viewers who view the results) tend to make events in some way special, too, by focusing a certain kind of attention on them.
    Attention and focus seem very important to photograph-making and viewing. They also seem to pertain to serendipity.
  15. Julie
    a feeling that it's exactly right, that it's something you somehow already knew but didn't know you knew? Which would make it not unexpected at all​
    Julie if you don't know you know it seems to me, to be somehow unknown or known, as you wish ! I know the feeling but believe that serendipity goes beyond such "knowledge" unless the event puts knowledge in a context where it gets some kid of meaning - a new quality to the already known (We are almost back with Rumsfeld and his idiosyncratic formulations).
    Arthur, I agree that what we do in daily life, professionally and personally somehow determines what role serendipity / bahramdipity plays - or we end up in life situations that fits our level of both.
    I agree with Fred that our way of treating seemly peripheral events and elements is important. In fact our capacity of grasping ever wider sources of information provide opportunities also in life (professional and private) - that's why I sort of agree with Pasteur when he says the "Chance favours the prepared mind" - if the "prepared" goes beyond preparing a specific event and points at life experience, competences and knowledge (education and learning in its widest sense).
    Fred wrote that:
    a photograph can probably be infused with a feeling of serendipity by a keen photographer or by an imaginative viewer even if nothing serendipitous actually took place​
    The term "taking place" is too restrictive, in my mind for what is meant when applying the term serendipity. For me the term refers to the discovery of any phenomenon that was not known before and/or searched for (if you can search for something you don't know exists!).
    However I agree with Fred that we as photographers can infuse potentially serendipitous elements in photos, or create images that have that potentiality. In fact what I presently do with my (too!) long series of "Carré d'image" are mostly made with such an inspiration. In terms of serendipity photographies they can either be shots of the serendipitous phenomenon itself, or be, as Fred writes, be infused with a feeling of serendipity. At least that is the type of photography that speaks to me and is a primary quality criteria for me.
    I'll stop here, but will surely come back !
  16. Fred - "Something I notice is a tendency, not just in photography, to make so-called serendipitous events into more than they are, either by romanticizing them or by spiritualizing them. Events are results of previous events. They are links in a chain. We impose different kinds of specialness on them depending on circumstances."
    That's very close to what I meant. Basically, people take credit for things to assume or appear to be in control and to believe they can summon the genie when needed.
  17. I think it is important to separate the serendipitous event (for someone) and what is done with it.
    It does not help much to announce that events are results of previous events. Falling over series of events, seems to me to be a very extreme example of discovering something in life that is new and not looked for. Mostly we discover phenomena (single events or items) separated from their previous state and from their (original) context. Mostly they would be un-explained, free- flowing phenomena that we never noticed before in general or in that context.
    What we then do with it is another story. I don't think people "basically" take credit for things with other objectives then to show something that for them is new (might be common place for others). I don't think neither that people, in general, tend to appear to be in control of anything in the field. I have personally never met a scientist or an artist that believes or try to appear as, they are able to "summon genie" when needed. In extreme cases they might refer to Pasteur to explain their genius luck.
  18. Anders - "My question is what we, as photographers, can do to maintain and even develop the capacity of serendipity and not fall or stay in the trap of bahramdipity, which is the exactly the opposite ?"
    How do you do that, Anders?
  19. So, I'm not sure I'm right about this, but I always took "serendipity" to be more than simply an accident of good fortune. It always seemed to have an extra oomph for me. As if it were not only a fortunate accident but one that was almost tailor-made for your own needs or one that had some sort of internal harmony that made it seem not only good but RIGHT and particularly appropriate for the given situation. In looking up the word, I wasn't finding this special meaning and was about to give up when I found these couple of quotes that sort of capture where I think serendipity can take me beyond just a fortunate accident.
    Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter.​
    (To me, it wouldn't be as serendipitous if I had found just any beautiful woman in the haystack. The serendipity comes in because of the connection between farmer's daughter and haystack.)
    Serendipity. Look for something, find something else, and realize that what you’ve found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for.​
    I go to the market and meet the man of my dreams. That's a happy accident. But I go to the market and run into a guy I knew and was in love with years ago but he was already with someone and there was no chance of us getting together. Now, serendipitously, he just broke up with that other boyfriend last week and now here we are, after all this time, running into each other at just the perfect time.
    In any case, what does this difference have to do with photography?
    I think we all experience happy accidents that would make a good photo for anyone. As I snap my shutter taking a picture of a beautiful woman on a billboard, that very woman walks in front of the billboard and I catch her and her image together. That's a happy accident. Would be great for anyone with a camera. Serendipity would be Fred catching a naked middle aged man walking casually down the street on a sunny day. For someone else, it would make a cool pic, perhaps, but it wouldn't be as serendipitous as it would be for Fred, whose thing is naked middle-aged men.
    As I said, I may be way off in how I'm using serendipity. And maybe there's a different or better word for what I'm talking about. But I always appreciate the idea of internal harmony or a coincidence or accident that somehow has even more special meaning for the one it happens to than it would for someone else.
  20. With the above in mind, I wanted to take a stab at a further answer to Anders's question:
    "My question is what we, as photographers, can do to maintain and even develop the capacity of serendipity and not fall or stay in the trap of bahramdipity, which is the exactly the opposite ?"​
    One thing is to establish an identity, a voice, something individual that matters to us. Then, serendipitous situations may be fewer and farther between but, when they occur, they will be more unique to us and they will add power to our voice. They will seem like they were meant to be FOR US and for OUR WORK, not just for any photographer or any photo.
    Another thing is to remain clued into layers of meaning and action as well as the multi-layered visual relationships that abound. The more connections and interconnections you are able to see and understand, the more likely a puzzle piece that fits really well will "accidentally" come into your field of view.
  21. This is something I've been considering for quite some time, though not with the same verbage.
    My most successful shots have been those those that for some reason or another have induced that almost instantaneous feeling of excitement and an immediate "knowing" that this is a scene to be captured and I must shoot quickly before that feeling passes. On another site, I was asked once to consider why I took the photograph in question. I've thought about that many times, and I still can't give an answer. It is often only in the editing process that I can really begin to consider these things. (And then, I still can't always articulate an answer).
    Oftentimes, when I set out with the intention of shooting or plan a portrait session, it seems that everything I've ever known or learned about the craft of photography simply flies out of my brain, leaving me with only the possibility of a "happy accident". I say this with a sincere sense confession/chagrin as I have always believed that it is very important to master the craft of photography; most days in spite of years of interest, classes, and informal study, I feel incredibly lacking in that area. The idea that "chance favors the prepared mind" brings hope that all the work will come to play in my subconscious when opportunities present.
    That said, I don't think that "bahramdipity" is necessarily a bad thing: the repetition can be viewed as preparation to capture the serendipitous moments when they arise.
  22. I don't think that "bahramdipity" is necessarily a bad thing​
    Amy, great point. I agree and I don't even think bharamdipity is good just because it can be viewed as preparation to capture serendipity. I think it can be good in and of itself. Intentional repetition can be very enlightening and visually interesting. An incisive LACK of accident, a well-ordered palette can certainly provide artistic and photographic dynamics of significance.
    That it is good to be on the lookout and to appreciate serendipity doesn't make its opposite less fulfilling, appealing, or interesting. There's something actually quite wonderful about the sun coming up every single day.
  23. Anders, you say, "Mostly they would be un-explained, free- flowing phenomena that we never noticed before in general or in that context."
    I'm going to leave "un-explained" [agree to disagree] and now argue against "free-flowing." I think what you're talking about is *not* free-flowing. It's a rupture.
    If one's typical experience is Fred's links and chains, or the habitual homeostatic feedback loops of daily bodily existence, it seems to me that what you're interested in is where that chain breaks; exactly where/when there chain fails.
    Shocks, swerves, where the needle on the record-player skips out of its rut and lands in some other tune. Where you are infiltrated or infiltrate; where the alien leaks in or leaks out and there is that sudden shocked/delighted realization that things are not as you thought they were/are.
  24. Julie, you and Anders seem to be saying the same thing. You're using rupture precisely the way he's using free-flowing. In other words, in your example of the needle of the record-player skipping (we must be old, aren't we!), Anders's "free-flowing" applies because it's not the routinely or dependently-flowing needle going from rut to rut, one rut leading to the next. It's "free" of that dependent, repetitive flow. So he would call it free-flowing and you would call it rupture. But you both seem to get it.
    A point I and Luis might make is that your realization could as easily be that things are exactly as you thought they were. We sort of drift into expecting that the music will continue as the record plays and that one note will follow the next. When the record skips, our expectations are dashed . . . but things are still very much as we think they are. The record skipped because there was a scratch in one of the ruts or because a piece of dust got on the needle or the record. Once we realize that, we realize that, in fact, things are just as they should be. A scratch or a piece of dust should cause the skip and that's what did cause the skip.
  25. The way one defines 'serendipity' ends up affecting the answer. I went back to the beginning. After looking at definitions for a while, this seems as good as any: "The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident". In the original fairy tale from which the word is derived, more is involved: "...they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of...."
    That injects sagacity into the equation: " acuteness of mental discernment and soundness of judgment."
    There we have something concrete that might be needed: Mental acuity and soundness of judgment.
    Bahramdipity in the original story is "... the suppression of serendipitous discoveries or research results by powerful individuals."
    "Zemblanity" is the opposite of serendipity. "The unfortunate accident made to happen by design"
    The word 'synergy' is mentioned more than a few times in this, so an input of energy (as in the expedition of the princes in the original story from which the word is derived) seems required.
    Since serendipity only occurs for things that weren't being sought, the shorter that list is, the more likely it might be to happen.
    [I still think we're dealing largely with superstitious behavior here]
    A great example of apparent serendipity in photography was Talbot's disvovery of gallic acid as a fixer. His dog, who had a charming name I forget, jumped on his desk as bad dogs do, and knocked over a few bottles, and some of the fluids spilled onto prints, and Talbot later realized some were fixed. He experimented, and the result was the fixer. But....he was desperately seeking a fixer, so I doubt this would be genuine serendipity. More like looking for the farmer's daughter and discovering her on the other side of the haystack.
  26. Luis asked how I try to "maintain and even develop the capacity of serendipity?".
    Well, as Stephen has done until recently, at least, doing the irregular, unplanned, unscheduled discovery of the world around me, every day - besides repeating the ordinary habits, visiting known places, for comfort!
    Challenging oneself and one's certainties by for example reading Fox-news (for some of us) and the like, is one way. Going systematically to unknown territory intellectually, socially, culturally and geographically is maybe the answer. However, whatever some do, they sometimes seem always to come back with the same shots - maybe me included. All a question of how stubborn we are in challenging habits and well tested modes of doing things in photography - and life in general. I don't have the answer to how to maintain serendipity, that's one of the reasons I posted it. A sign of aging might be, apart loosing memory, a slow increasing degree of bahramdipity. Dying, is said by some, to be the ultimate serendipitous experience of life.
    One comment to Fred's description serendipity based on the meeting of the farmers daughter. The way I use the term, but it can be used otherwise, for sure, is not necessarily related to "happy events" - also a comment to Luis above. I see it more as personal discoveries that expand our scope of knowledge and maybe understanding of the world. Such discoveries can in some cases be photographed. One could maybe say that most "serious" creative photography is that.
    Julie, concerning "free-flowing" phenomena, I used it, as you mention, in relation to Fred's chains of events. You are right that the term can be related to breaks in expected and known chains of events. I however interpreted Fred's "chains" as the chains of any phenomenon you discover. In that latter case I believe that the "event" is mostly free flowing detached from a known "chain" (hope it is not too blurred !). Fred has just clarified it better above. I agree !
  27. I always worked against the "prepared mind" axiom. Not because it is wrong. Scientific research is largely about finding what was not sought after. I employ a modified form of preparation that suites my nature. My wholly rational seek and ye shall be found method and (n) degrees of separation system of connecting random dots increases the likelihood of serendipitous discoveries.
    1. Know not what ye are seeking.
    2. Be confident that it will find you.
    3. See the connection between each find in the shortest number of steps.
    My methodology goes back to roaming the library card catalog and stacks aimlessness of childhood. I found that for me everything is interesting. I learned too late what a research librarian did for a living. Would'a been a great day job for an artist.
  28. My sure-fire system at work.
  29. Alan, your system is analogous to my: "Since serendipity only occurs for things that weren't being sought, the shorter that list is, the more likely it might be to happen."
    That which you are not seeking is seeking you.
  30. Though I enjoy going out to wander, I like to know what I want and go for it. Any surprises along the way are most welcome and, as I said, those surprises often feel like mine.
    Disclaimer: I often feel trapped in trying to say how I work. Sometimes I do this and sometimes I do that. I suspect that's true for most of us. Just when I think I know what I want and am going for it, something comes along and goes for me. But hardly always.
  31. I still think we're dealing largely with superstitious behavior here --Luis​
    I think there's a lot to this. There's something about humans wanting to relinquish responsibility . . . giving it all over to God or the fates is not so unlike giving things over to serendipity. In a sense, putting a premium on serendipity reminds me of putting a premium on candidness. You don't control what's candid either. But at the same time as we want this uncontrolled experience to come to us, we want to do (or consciously not do) everything in our power to make it happen (to control the circumstances). We are, as usual, schizophrenic, giving with one hand what we try to take away with another.
    Responsibility and control are different but related. Some of my resistance to both candidness and serendipity is that they seem to want to slip one's responsibility and direct engagement under the door, though I know that's probably as false as it is true in different cases. We like things to be out of our control and then to take credit for the ways in which we fool the fates or God or the world into slyly seeing to it that these uncontrollable events happen. This may be the flip side to the coin of egotism I introduced in the thread next door. Being an egotist and a little bit more than selfish a good deal of the time, I may not be looking for ways to give up control.
    [The above is me thinking out loud and is not meant as a put down to anyone or their methods. It's me being the usual skeptic I am, much more about me than about anyone else. And I'm very much unsure about all this but wanted to put it out there. Please take it that way. It means it is, to me, a fascinating subject.]
  32. Double up-load !
  33. I'll give a concrete example of serendipity, when it happens.
    The circular jade Bi disks which are from the Neolithic period of Chinese history (people were buried with them) and which is said to represent the sky and the earth, attracts me since long.
    I made the image below on the basis of a photography from the Forbidden City in Beijing. It ended up with 64 (unintended) squares, equal to the Chinese esoteric system (that I had no detailed knowledge about), "I Ching", the Classic of changes, the Book of Changes, which presents 64 hexagrams, representing the same knowledge presented in different ways, from the "creative force, number one, to "before completion", number 64.
    A chess board is structured with the same 64 squares, because of the same historical reference (which I didn't know either) !
  34. Anders, I have practiced the I Ching, and played chess recreationally, and never made that connection. Interesting.
  35. Serendipity Luis, serendipity without superstition !
  36. 64 is a number of common occurence (serendipitous) in different cultures: The oft cited multiple of 8 x 8, or in the series of 2 to the power of n where n as 6 yields 64. Multiply twice over by two again and you have 256, the minimum number of colors generally accepted to create a chromatic image. The Commodore 64 was the single best selling computer model of all time, having 64 kilobytes of memory. "Will you still love me or will you then leave me, when I'm 64?" (The Beatles, possibly in 19??, 19...64? But it may only have been written in 67 in the classic Sgt. Pepper album).
  37. Superstitious behavior in the psychological sense is not like believing in witches, Anders, but apparently you see that as 1) A negative and 2) Way below you, so I'll let it drop, though it is a serious part of this discussion. I don't want it to stifle a very interesting thread.
    I wanted to go back to the method that Alan and I mentioned. It's a form of prepared mind, but not er..."zombie-mind", if that makes sense. For me, and I almost hate to bring this up again, it is derived from meditation, but maybe I engaged in it before taking up that practice. I believe the universe is strewing gifts at our feet frequently, but we step over them. Nor is it a dogmatic way for me. Just like Fred said above,
    "Sometimes I do this and sometimes I do that. I suspect that's true for most of us."
    That's true or me too. Sometimes when I'm tracking on something , or in a series, I'll work with a narrower angle of acceptance. I don't see either method as necessarily 'better' than the other. I think one of the keys to serendipity is to be able to remain sensitized and (Ok, two) able to spot anomalies. There's a stepless gradient there, because I do remain open to accidents, and I might not engage a surprise immediately if I'm deep into something else, but I'll make a mental note, or jot it down, or I'll drop every other vector and take a new direction.
  38. Superstitious behavior in the psychological sense is not like believing in witches​
    I know Luis, I played on words. Sorry !
    I think you are pointing at something important when you refer to the ability to spot anomalies. Anomalies to what you have seen or known before and anomalies to what seem to be common in the context you are in (neighborhood , country, culture, nature etc).
  39. A new angle for Anders to ponder:
    We live in a statistical universe (you know this from quantum physics, genetic recombination, weather, etc.).
    Statistics apply to populations; they are meaningless to an individual. Therefore you, Anders, are pure serendipity to the extent that you find yourself outside of populations.
    The 3 billion camera users who find serendipity kill that serendipity by being a predictable population; but each individual photograph, taken alone, is pure serendipity.
    Steve Murray's (very nice) dog with roots photo is pure serendipity in the context of Steve Murray's individual picture-making episode; it loses all serendipity if taken in the population of dog-root pictures that one can inevitably find to fill a Flickr category.
  40. but each individual photograph, taken alone, is pure serendipity​
    Julie, I expected that to come up at one moment or another.
    Maybe we could agree on the observation that most individuals are variations of a theme. Some individuals are extraordinary different from others you have known or seen in one way or another, this is where I personally would introduce serendepity.
    If I should find myself and my camera in the middle of an unknown African tribe, if such a thing still exist, all would be serendipity to the extreme. My first photographical efforts would be to catch the characteristics of that tribe in all its social, human and physical dimensions. After a while (years?) serendipity would become phenomena which are in one way or another extraordinary and still unknown within the tribe, whereas anything else become variations of already known and photographed themes.
    Philosophically (in certain cultures that I will hold back to mention here...), all human beings are extraordinary and different from any fellow human being. In photographical or scientific terms it is not that much the case - they become an infinite series of variations to common themes. That's at least how I would reserve the term serendipity to the (relatively) extraordinary.
  41. Julie, sorry I noticed that I forgot to explain the first step I did from your mail above, that of moving directly from the photos you referred to, to that of the photographer - and furthermore i forgot coming back to the photos. I hope it is useful anyway.
  42. Improvisation is an enactment of serendipity, amongst other things. I prefer improvisation in photography as it is for me more process and less explanation after the fact of a result or some rarther vague quality or condition prior to exposure that a photographer may aspire to achieving. Better, I believe, is to improvise, and to do so with passion.
  43. Serendipity is significant to me as a means of photographic motivation or simply inspirational accompaniment. I wouldn't fail to understand the serendipity Steve has described even when a billion photos of dogs near roots of trees were shown to me alongside his. Because I understand that Steve's photo is about his perspective on the dog and the roots, his seeing of it, not about some sort of generic subject categorization, "dogs and roots." I don't see it as a matter of numbers or as so tied into subject matter.
    Also, for me, it's not limited to the circumstances of the shot. It is about what is seen when the photograph is viewed. I may look at a hundred or a thousand photos in the Street forum on PN of ironic moments when the "right" guy passes under the "right" billboard. Sure, after a while it becomes tedious and cliché (though occasionally a photo like this will stand out because it has a particular sensibility or depth of approach behind it), but that doesn't stop all of them from feeling serendipitous to me. It's one reason why serendipity alone is not necessarily a photographic plus. Serendipity can certainly yield a very boring photo. But a million photos showing a similar kind of serendipity doesn't make any of them less serendipitous, though it may make the viewing somewhat tedious.
    What if I learned after years of viewing it that one of these ironic billboard shots had been staged. I would then know that a photo that conveys serendipity was not shot serendipitously.
  44. Julie - "Statistics apply to populations; they are meaningless to an individual"
    Not in my world. When my grandfather won a huge lottery in Europe, it was meaningful, even if he made the list of winners. When my friend caught breast cancer and died recently, it was excruciatingly meaningful to her and to me. When Robert Frank criss-crossed the country photographing what would become The Americans, he knew only a handful of the 800+ rolls would be usable. One in 281 pictures were.
    The universe has a limited number of possibilities (some say 10 to the 500th power). It repeats itself. Some of these events are serendipitous to the participant. Most innocous, some fatal.
    Sometimes statistics just don't matter. Did you ever fall in love? How many people around the world fell in love that day? What are the stats? Do they matter to any of those people? Or that they fell in love?
    I do not think all photographs are serendipitous, either. If they were, the word would cease to have any relevance in the medium, and we could close this thread. Does anyone here besides Julie think all their pictures are serendipitous? Let's say equally so?
    A lot of people had the dog wander into their root pic, and uttered, "Damn dog" before shooing it away and exposing dogless frames. Were those serendipitous as well?
  45. Luis, you don't seem to know what statistics are -- which (not knowing), I guess, is not as uncommon as it should be.
  46. Julie, I pretend to know what statistics is and what they can be use for and they are only telling relative facts about the individual - like, I'm one inch higher than the average American male. They are essential for the individual if he/she needs (we all do), and wants to be informed about society beyond what can be perceived by individual experiences and hearsay.
    Nothing bad about good statistics they are essential in big complex and fast changing societies. Much can be said against how statistics are used and misused.
  47. At times several of us have said we like to imagine narratives for our pictures. A good photo Serindip story might be like a mystery novel. The author goes back within the plot and places clues, red herrings, and esoteric facts. At the dramatic denouement with all the characters gathered in the library Poirot reveals the perpetrator.
    Hercule Poirot: "I am an imbecile. I see only half of the picture."
    Miss Lemon: "I don't even see that.”
    The reveal for a picture goes something like this: When you capture the image whatever you see isn't a complete narrative - maybe only half. Serendipitous clues complete it.
  48. whatever you see isn't a complete narrative​
    Beautiful post, Alan!
    Very little (if anything) of what we talk about is like an on/off switch or is completely literal. It's PICTURES. Thank you for talking about clues, which are what drive most photos, like the effervescent bubbles that energize a glass of champagne.
    Clues suggest. They don't explain and they don't justify.
    Some of the serendipity I have experienced may never get identified in a photo. Yet it will have gone into the building of the photo. That may be all I need.
    I wonder if it would make sense to think of my process in this way. It's not bad. I don't go out looking for pictures. I go out looking for and devising clues. Clues to mysteries that are not meant to be solved.
    Thanks, Alan. You very often think and talk photographically.
  49. Julie Heyward - "Luis, you don't seem to know what statistics are -- which (not knowing), I guess, is not as uncommon as it should be."
    Julie, much too kind and tactful. I made a big mistake, no, two, and I am grateful or the correction. Thank you.
    Anders, a heartfelt thank you. I owe you one.
    Alan, even though I am still not so sure about the business comparing photographs to text, I like what you had to say.
  50. In my opinion, serendipity in the making of photographs is exactly not to do with anything like clues to solve a case. It's exactly where your "case" vanishes; goes up in smoke -- POOF, it's suddenly gone and all your pre-conceived structure suddenly "is" something else. What you thought you were looking for is not at all what you are looking at; what you thought was going on, was happening, is not what is going on, what is happening. You are changed because the world is changed. You are the victim/recipient of this "crime," not the detective "solving" it.
  51. What you thought you were looking for​
    Do you always think you're actively looking for something? I'm often NOT on the hunt for a photo. Photos, sometimes, simply come together . . . sometimes serendipitously. It's not that I had a pre-conceived structure that's suddenly something else. It's that something occurs that makes me want to take a picture. It didn't somehow change what I was thinking. It got my attention.
    suddenly "is" something else.​
    No. "Is" is precisely the wrong word. It's too linear, too complete, too definitive. You're way too sure of yourself, Julie. It "ISN'T" as much as it IS. Think "unknown possibilities" rather than self certainty. "Is something else" ties an anchor around its neck.
  52. all your pre-conceived structure suddenly "is" something else.​
    IMO, the most important change in structure is not from a supposedly pre-conceived structure of the world to a newly structured world or a new perception of the structure of the world. It's the one that allows me to transition from the structure of the world I'm photographing to the structure of the photo I'm making.
  53. "is" = alive and conscious (as opposed to unconcious and/or dead). Mmmm kay?
    "is" is not "about." It "is" the experience, not the explanation/dissection.
  54. Cannot serendipity be part of both of what Julie and Fred are referring to as approaches, that is, whether they are based on a preconceived structure or by simply allowing the subject matter or photo to come together (albeit with the mind of the photographer also being strongly involved in each of these processes)? I am more interested though in what possibly influences/creates/increases serendipity in some of these cases, and equally, how to encourage the particular personal or external factors that allow that effect to flourish (Maybe this has already been analysed in the OP, which I have only summarily reviewed).
  55. I read Alan as saying that serendipity catalyzes or precipitates the encoding of the photograph with, for lack of a better word, conceptual receptor sites for the projection of narratives.
    Whatever one is doing before serendipity happens, and sometimes it may have zero to do with photography (and there may or may not be a camera/etc at hand) is a causal stream that is interrupted or energized by the realization.
    I sometimes set out with ideas in mind, or more concrete plans, but I do not think of them as rails inexorably leading to a preconceived destination at an appointed time but as departure points. To me, serendipity is a form of interactive open dialogue with possibilities and potentials. Personally, I think these potentials are always floating in and out around us. The serendipity may lie more in a shift in our perception.
    I should also say that I sometimes do come back to ideas that were superseded by serendipity. They're not just cast aside as outre' or used Kleenex.
  56. Arthur, I don't think anyone here has a monopoly on serendipity. We're experiencing and interpreting it in our own ways. It's the pronouncements about what serendipity is for everyone else that are bound to fall short or waft over the top.
    The OP question remains: "My question is what we, as photographers, can do to maintain and even develop the capacity of serendipity and not fall or stay in the trap of bahramdipity, which is the exactly the opposite ?"
    Some have not personally addressed the question at all, but have done a lot of fancy footwork around it.
  57. Arthur, in my first post above, I addressed that question. Several of us have. But, as you know, these discussions take on their own life . . . which can be fun as well.
    Mmmm kay?​
    What do cosmetics and pink cadillacs have to do with this?
    Sartre referred to being alive and conscious as NOTHINGNESS. ISNESS was reserved for non-conscious, non-willful things. But we don't really to need to bring Sartre into this.
    My photographic experience, and I thought that's what we were talking about relative to serendipity (though photography is barely mentioned in some posts), is that the experience of the moment the shutter snaps only represents potential, becoming not being. That's why I liked Alan's use of "clues." The experience in front of the subject, the moment the dog walks near the roots of the tree, is really NOT what I care about. It's the clues suggested for a photograph that get my juices flowing at that point. And it's usually just the beginning of the experience which will last through the time I get home, look through the photos of the day, maybe choose the dog one to work on, go to sleep thinking about it, wake up the next day and bring it into my raw converter, keep it on the screen for a couple of minutes, hours, days, or weeks while I work on it, and then continue to see what I see in it and hear what others see in it. All the while the clues are adding up but not necessarily "telling" me anything.
  58. I wanted to expand a little on this: "I should also say that I sometimes do come back to ideas that were superseded by serendipity. They're not just cast aside as outre' or used Kleenex."
    Not just because they may have viability, but because they proved a good departure point into something else entirely, and that may be their greatest value. Note that serendipity nearly always happens when we're involved in something else. The conditions under which it happens appear important to me. Maybe it's not so important what we're looking for, but that we're looking.
  59. Julie, the reason I question your use of "is" is that you seem very certain of what the experience "is" at the moment of its occurring, this change in structure you perceive. What I took Alan to be suggesting is that, at any point in the continuum, all you have are clues.
    Arthur, I agree with you that either way of photographing (some sort of preconception or a photo simply coming together) allows for serendipity. I'm not discussing methodology with Julie to say one way does or does not allow for serendipity and certainly not to say one way is better than the other. I'm talking about how I understand the process and the experience, no matter what method is used. "Clues" seems suggestive to me. Restructuring seems too foundational and complete to me, too solid. I prefer the idea of the incomplete narrative that Alan proposed. Though, like Luis, I worry that bringing narrative into discussions of pictures can have its own problems.
  60. Serendipity is that an interesting thread starts when I'm on a short holiday.
    No wait, that's Murphy's law.
    On a nice trip with a friend around town for night photos, I stand framing the nice effect of a light. A couple enters exactly in the light to hug: click! When I saw the photo back at home, it had something of a feel of serendipity to me. For me, they completed a photo which I'd otherwise would have liked, but nothing special. Now for me, this phot got that bit extra.
    What serendipity? That I'm standing there with my camera ready on a tripod, already focussed and exposure times set? So a long way to say: serendipity in actively taking the photo - no, not really buying into that. It's a bit too close to the infinite monkeys, typewriters and their version of Shakespeare's Hamlet rolling out. Arthur's much earlier point (page 1) on frequency increasing chances... sporters do need training. Our photographic senses do too. It's just that preparation and the act are usually one and the same (for hobbyist photographers wandering around with a camera, scouting that one great image).
    There is a bit a minor point about finding the unexpected in the act of making the photos, and that's being open to them. But personally, I find that even the expected photos come out bad when I'm not open to the unexpected - because it means I am not looking... in the end, it's about looking, and seeing.
    Serendipity inside the photo, though, for me happens. But not on my own. It's sharing a photo and getting a critique or remark of somebody seeing something completely different in it. But something that works, seems right, feels right. The clues Alan and Fred mentioned, but clues going other places than you knew.
    I have to admit, the definition(s) of serendipity leave room to wiggle, so maybe my approach on it is rather different and off-tune.
  61. Wouter, how serendipitous you should link to that photo. I had just stumbled across it this morning and was considering how I would comment on it.
    I think it's a great case in point. You surely did experience a sort of serendipity in the taking of it. And I think that stimulation likely had some effect on the outcome of the photo and it will likely stay with you when you look at the photo. For me, the photo itself does not speak much of the serendipity. It could as easily have been that you came across this couple and got out your camera quickly and took the shot (a photo which I like quite a bit though I do wish the couple were a little clearer so I'd have known it was a couple and not some sort of street structure). In other words, there aren't any (or enough) clues to reference the serendipity. Now, I'm not saying I think there should be such clues. I think the photo can easily stand on its own without actually conveying the serendipity you experienced, which takes nothing away from that serendipity . . . or the photo.
    It would be interesting to consider what kinds of clues will give the viewer the kind of serendipitous feeling or experience or at least the expression of such a feeling that the photographer had. I think some sense of TIMING that is made visible will be very important in getting a viewer to experience the serendipity of the moment. Often timing will be communicated through suggested movement but there are other ways as well. If I were asked to characterize your photo, I would say it has a more atmospheric and universalized sense about it than a serendipitous sense, which again is not at all to detract from it. It also has a healthy dose of voyeurism, which is OK in my book.
    I wonder, for example, if the serendipity I experience as a viewer in this Bresson photo is due to a strong sense of timing, the kiss seeming to be just happening in the moment rather than seeming to be lingering or stilled for eternity. The dog looking up at just the right instant and the reflected car passing by in the same instant. A harmonic convergence of events.
  62. Yes, the Bresson photo example is great, not only for the naturalness of the seemingly spontaneous kiss and the engaging bodily compositions, but also as he may not have seen the dog's look. Serendipitous to the photographer photographing is a sort of process serendipity, as Wouter's example points out, whereas it may be different from the photographer viewing his image later and seeing some unobserved or vaguely observed phenomenon or clues, as I think Fred mentions.
    'Process serendipity" sometimes comes about when the movement of subject matter is very busy and changeable and the moment of capture becomes more fortuitous by providing something not previously perceived or fully contemplated. The floating chairs were originally in a large mixed up pack in the pool, which then drfited apart (the shadows being somewhat secondary at exposure but important to the image) and the old lady being watched by her dog was not actually feeling weak (the compassionate message and harmony with her dog) but was really bending over to pick up a window screen. The clue of man-animal co-dependence may have created the shot, but serendipity changed the message of the image to one of fragility and dependence, for better or for worse.
  63. I want to add that the convergence of events in the Bresson photo, I think, is only significant and only appears serendipitous having been photographed. Simultaneous happenings of events like these happen all the time. People kiss at cafes and dogs look on and cars pass by all the time. Who cares? Events like these surround us and are a dime a dozen. Taking a picture of it is what transforms it into something more than life going on around us. It is serendipitous only because he had his camera with him. There is nothing especially serendipitous about it without the photo of it or without the photographer taking the photo of it. The photographing is part of the serendipitous event. It creates a kind of relationship among events that wasn't in the events themselves. The photo, therefore, becomes about itself. I think this is a combination of Bresson recognizing something and knowing how to create something photographically. He didn't just capture something that was there. He framed and created the photograph out of this moment and these events. He did not just bring us this moment. I claim there absolutely was no moment like this at all. We have a framed event, a photo, that imposes something on what was going on at the time. It does not simply bring to us what was going on at the time. If it weren't a photograph, no one would care about these particular events. (And judging by what I've seen in so many of his photos, I'd be surprised if he didn't well consider the dog and anticipate -- if even non-consciously -- the look of the dog.)
  64. Arthur, I see some serendipity in the pool photo, for sure. The other photo is wonderful and has so much going on in it that any attempt at pinning down a message seems to detract from it for me. I think it's a great example of clues, not "is"s. It is suggestive of so many things and I would hate to narrow down the message or have the photographer do so.
  65. Fred - "Simultaneous happenings of events like (the kiss in the HCB pic) these happen all the time."
    Indeed. Not to mention the things that haven't occurred to us at all, the things we are blind to, or to extend Alan's idea, are clueless about. The critical part of serendipity is our ability to go whoa!/what?/that's funny/etc. and shift gears. The HCB picture is also a very brief event, therefore immediate, but not all serendipitous moments/ideas are like that. Some are still moments.
  66. One of the forces of photograhy and photographers like Bresson is the making of something not so ordinary out of something that is quite ordinary (like the kiss photo, or that of the well dressed lady in a restaurant sipping from a wine glass, or the St Lazare railway station puddle jumper and the other synergistic elements of that scene). I think you are right, Fred, about Bresson's ability to see many things going on (or arranging the angle or moment to do that) at the time of exposure and to frame them as well as he did, such that the image has a greater force. The interesting part of serendipity is what Luis refers to as that which we are not conscious of or are blind to. I wonder if that type of serendipitous component of the final image is not in some way favoured in the cases of the more experimental photographers, who, although not seeing everything, are particularly welcoming of new and unexpected experiences, new ways of looking at something. It would perhaps be discouraging if serendipity was merely a chance event and didn't have some process-related origin as well.
  67. The HCB picture is also a very brief event, therefore immediate, but not all serendipitous moments/ideas are like that. Some are still moments.​
    Luis, I suspect you are right, though I will admit to thinking of immediacy up to now as an important part of serendipity. It probably doesn't have to be. Can you think of a photo that might portray serendipity in a more still and less immediate way?
  68. I would agree insofar as immediacy is in the whoa! moment, and most photographers, myself included, are gluttonous opportunists if something remotely useful occurs to them, but the photograph may very well be in a different time frame.
    Here's some examples I think fit this:
    Excusado, by Edward Weston, which prefigures the minimalist veggie still lifes that would come later.
    This, by Eggleston...
    Also, serendipity may sneak into our images undetected at the time of exposure, but later, in PP, one realizes his luck, and a so-so pic may become a prized keeper. It can happen in so many ways.
    One crazy-long example. Take the influence of Atget. Through Man Ray, Berenice Abbott meets Atget (serepndiptiy #1), befriends him. Atget dies, and she buys up about half of the work, which she brings back to the US on her return from France. As quite a few women, and almost no men do in photo-history, she laboriously goes through the collection, makes prints and prepares to exhibit his work. She shows it to a friend named Walker Evans (Serendipity #2), who gets it, and is forever changed as a photographer. He proceeds to infuence (and pass on the hybrid Atget-Evans DNA) into Frank, Winogrand, Levitt, Eggleston etc (#s 3, 4, 5,...) Most of us here have been wittingly or unwittingly affected to some degree by this chain of serendipity.
  69. It is of course right that serendipity is just a word, and words are for us all to use daily as it fits us. But words are also there to make us communicate and to develop new understandings and insight in life. This said, to underline that surely we can appropriate the word serendipity for events in photography where unexpected, unplanned, random things happens and show up in a shot.
    On this level of discussing and using the term serendipity, I would come back to two question: Why some photographers seem to fall on such events more frequently than others (Cartier-Bresson and others) and secondly: How do photographers learn and train to improve the likelihood of such events happening? That we all experience them is somewhat trivial to note, but what do we learn from them ?
    However, there is a second level of discussion on serendipity which maybe Julie and Fred especially touched on above, but I failed really to understand them. This second level is linked to what I think serendipity essentially is there for, for us to understand and reflect on.
    It concerns events, knowledge, visions etc that make us understand ourselves, the world, better. It has something to do with why (some of us) shoot photos as an obsession. Something to do with what photos do to our understanding of the world. Not just the repeated quote that : "I shoot to see how it looks like, photographed" but what photos do to our understanding of the world in its visible, partly visible and invisible dimensions and how do we improve our capabilities of shooting such "things". In this sense, serendipity is a term used for such moments where we suddenly see and shoot something we have never known exists before and which inspire us to learn how to shoot them. New knowledge, new understanding. Life-changing visions, in short. Photography, as a way of living, as a tool of improving ourselves and the world we walk around in, or sit in, with a camera in our hands.
  70. The critical part of serendipity is our ability to go whoa!/what?/that's funny/etc. and shift gears.​
    Exactly, that was a bit my point when i linked my own photo, and for me also the point about the Bresson photo Fred linked to. The 'process serendipity' is about seeing and reacting. And in the reacting part, our skills come into play. For me, it starts to slide away from serendipity there - it's not unexpected Bresson manages to catch this photo at the exact right time, it's the exact skills for which he is typically mentioned.
    (in my case: it's a 1 second exposure, and I waited for the people to move to the place which I hoped would work out best, for half a minute - not an instant reaction on my behalf at all; and indeed it leaves no clues, as it's a quite static photo anyway and there was little serendipity at play, in my view)
    Maybe it's just me, but I see serendipity as a flash of pure luck, something essentially outside of us. Skill, ability and an above-average awareness of what's happening (which Bresson shows for me) are anything but pure luck, and inside of us. It's the prepared mind that translates the unexpected moments to photos, or can give photos that unexpected 'look'. Not luck, skill.
    Maybe Bresson waited for the couple to start kissing, for the dog to look up, maybe the moment was not that brief - who knows. It does not change the picture, but it would change what we can attribute to serendipity, I think. Either way, to me it speaks more of Bresson's ability to register events than anything else.
    Can you think of a photo that might portray serendipity in a more still and less immediate way?​
    Arthur's first examples of the chairs in the pool, though also arguably here, it's made by a clearly prepared mind. The strong lines of the chairs, blue versus white - it's got clear elements which are very likely to yield a strong photo. Is it a "whoa" moment, or does it speak for the fact that Artur walks around with his eye and mind open for oppurtunity, and a camera at hand?
    I just keep ending up with chance favours the prepared mind, I know. But to me, it's the major thing. You can live a gazillion unique moments, without a camera in your hand, there are no photos. You can look for and find the unexpected, and photograph it all - you will never catch the unexpected, or even turn away from it as it is happening. Those with serendipious photos were ready and willing to make those photos.
    (note: this all considering the 'process serendipity', not the 'viewing serendipity')
    I much like Luis' latest example of the chain of influences, it's another thing, and to me a clearer case of serendipity.
  71. Anders, we posted roughly the same time, so my last reply does not at all respond to your last questions.
    I'm intrigued by the question/thought/idea whether serendipity improves our understanding of the world around us, or give those little sparks of new insights. Even while I agree to the notion of photography as a way of learning the world around us (rather than the Winogrand quote indeed) being an objective, I do not see serendipity having a profound role there. It can spark tangents, side paths... but I do not see it changing course.
    That could of course also be because it simply did not yet happen to me.
  72. Anders - "I would come back to two question: Why some photographers seem to fall on such events more frequently than others (Cartier-Bresson and others)"
    It depends on the type of photography they do, and how we define or appropriate the word. An SPer like HCB, Winogrand, etc certainly gives the dramatic, often spectacular (brickbat?) appearance that it's raining serendipity on them. If you read how Winogrand decided where to photograph (and when) you can clearly see how he was not just stacking the odds of being in a rich, fluid environment, but preparing himself well for it. It also must be said that GW also knew how to work in a much more sparse type of environment, but the work looks very different. He also didn't just bang away with color. He couldn't afford it. These pictures are more studied, though no less serendipitous.
    HCB talked extensively about his mental preparation and heightened state of awareness. I will not repeat that here, it's in many books and quotes on the web. Some here, myself included, have spoken of our own versions of this already, though one would have to sift through the thread to find it. Look at HCB's landscapes. The serendipity is there, but it's a little harder to see.
    I do not think it trivial that people note and share their experiences with serendipity, and it should be remembered that it is not the only thing that results in strong photographs.
    Serendipity also happens far less dramatically, as in a lab setting. There the anomaly is perceived, in part, because of the stringent controls placed on the experiments/setting. It happens to table top/still-life/studio photographers too, but it is harder for viewers to detect unless we are told. Irving Penn comes to mind.
    Atget made the first photograph ever made from the inside (by the trunk) of a tree, looking out. He doesn't seem to have had any idea of the significance of this, and he did not go out and make ten others like it. Unless the viewer realizes this, there doesn't seem to be anything relevant to the image. Sometimes we don't know about our own photographs unless we are told.
    Obsession and often compulsion are part of the artists' world. Part of photography is the difference between our brain-processed way of seeing and the camera's brainless version. Both are materially mediated, of course. At first, the difference is vast, what we see is not what we get. The camera seems to be disconnected from us. It's partially a reveal of the general delusion we live in, of what we think we saw vs. what is there. I can already hear the faint baying of the hounds about to be released about Schroedinger's kitty, but, hey, this is the macro world. Photography, among many other things, tests this with every exposure. So when Winogrand says he photographs to see what things look like photographed, it's not as funny, simple, or blunt as it might seem to many. It is a very serious, direct and real part of the medium and what one can learn from it.
  73. It has something to do with why (some of us) shoot photos as an obsession. Something to do with what photos do to our understanding of the world. . . . New knowledge, new understanding.​
    Big, important question. Why do I photograph?
    I tend to put it in terms of revelation and also in terms of intimacy, and we can certainly learn about and understand the world from both of these.
    REVELATION. The Bresson photo in question makes us see the world differently by revealing it in a way it didn't before exist. And it invites viewers to see everyday events as more related and in harmony (or tension, in many cases).
    AS IF. Good photos often make us feel as if we were there. Or at least as if we know something or feel something that we would not otherwise have felt. They provide or induce empathy.
    INTIMACY. Regarding my own work, I want the viewer to feel a level of comfort and intimacy with my subjects that will bridge gaps, that will show often dehumanized people (or people written or thought about as types) as human beings, as alive, as sexual.
    Finally, to create something new. That one is hard to describe, but I suspect most of you get it.
    How serendipity plays into this . . . just another tool to utilize both in my process and in what I may imbue a photo with. There is a sense in which photos are uncanny. We haven't been there but feel that we have. It's not the real world but it seems as though it is. We don't know the subject of the portrait but we feel as if we know them, as if we've seen inside. Serendipity is often (perhaps, always) uncanny. So it fits right in.
    The Winogrand quote is certainly not the be-all and the end-all of photography nor is it the best description by far of what the power and depth of photography is. It's only one starting point of many for a way of understanding an aspect of photography. And it's simply a poignant reminder at times. It makes a good point precisely about the uncanniness of a photograph, a point which people do often forget.
  74. On the Winogrand quote, I am mostly in agreement with Fred. I do not see that quote (or any other) written on stone tablets, and yet, I still see the quote as significant. Particularly wrt serendipity.
    I very carefully and deliberately said "It is a very serious, direct and real part of the medium..." I used the word "part" because I wanted to make it clear that quote is neither the first nor last word in photography. As we all realize, the medium is too large and alive to be encapsulated by words from anyone.
    Serendipity is a form of conceptual evolution for me. The prepping of mind (which can take many forms) is not a quick thing. It takes time, gets pre-loaded and makes one sensitive enough to detect possibilities that happen around us. One slow and building, the other faster and a kind of release, like loosening an arrow after holding the bow drawn. It seems to me half of a two-stage process. Insights flow through the boundary layer between the interacting parties, at least in one direction.
  75. Anders, I've been thinking about your question, "what do we learn from them ?" -- what do we learn from serendipity?
    One of the classic tests for self-consciousness in other species (usually primates) is to put a mark on their face -- say a colored spot or a chocolate smear on the cheek -- and then put that animal in front of a mirror. If they reach out to touch the face-smudge and/or try to remove it from their own face then that is indicative of consciousness of self. It seems to me that something like this is happening with a photographer's response to serendipity. It's a reaching out in surprise and momentary doubt -- is that me? is that real? Where am I in relation to this strangeness? It's a repositioning or a finding of oneself. Kind of an astonished self/world touching kind of thing. You know it but need to touch it -- just to fill it out, absorb it or be absorbed by it ... or something like that.
  76. This notion of self consciousness and serendipity is interesting and I'd just like to mine it by thinking out loud a bit.
    For me, these kinds of accidents or serendipity may certainly feel personal or related to me (as I said above, sort of tailor-made for me), but they seem also very much beyond me. Not like a moment of self realization or self consciousness but, instead, like a moment where the universe has taken over and I really recede into the background. While the monkey reaching out when looking in the mirror seems like a confirmation of self, the act of photographing serendipity seems like putting a frame around the power of the universe and timing.
    I think in many ways, the serendipity would not be there without the act of photography. The events Bresson photographed were not that serendipitous to him without Bresson having had his camera with him and actually taking a picture of it. The dog walking into Steve's field of view is not serendipitous other than that Steve was taking a picture of that field of view at the moment.
    Thinking about the analogy, the monkey has a self whether the dot is there or not. The act of drawing the dot on the monkey doesn't provide the context for self consciousness, it provides a means of recognition of self consciousness. I think in many cases, the act of photographing is much more than a recognition of serendipity and in effect a creator of it. Is it serendipitous that the couple kissed and the dog looked and the car went by reflected in the window all at the same moment? Perhaps mildly so. But the important serendipity is not that these events occurred but that Bresson had his camera at the ready when they did? It is serendipitous that the dog walked by as Steve was taking the picture. That's very much a part of what I experience as serendipity in the photos. The act of photographing becomes part of the serendipitous event.
  77. I like this idea, Fred, and Julie H, who mentions this idea up in the thread a bit. It takes a viewer as reference point in order to have serendipity in the first place, otherwise we just have random events.
  78. "Serendipity" is a word for something that happens to you. Something that happens to you. Referring back to one of my earlier posts, you are the "victim" of serendipity. What happens TO YOU is what serendipity is.
    If you aren't there, there is no serendipity. No victim; no crime. No you; no serendipity.
    What the camera does -- what photography or being a photographer does/allows (possibly but not necessarily) is, when you put that camera to your eye, you become a potential victim. You put yourself in the line of (possible) fire. Dangerous light may enter ... spots may appear. Push the button and receive your bullet. "Oh!" "Ah!" "What the ... !!??" "OUCH!" "Good grief!"
    It's the victim-ness -- being somewhat violently if delightfully "handled," bent, swerved, ruptured, track-skipped (assaulted!) -- that makes serendipity different from other varieties of button-pushing.
    If you are meticulouly prepared, armoured, wary, careful, well-defended, or always shoot first -- spots will still sometimes appear on your face! One should carry Kleenex at all times.
  79. Catching a cold is something that happens TO YOU. One should carry a Kleenex, or some brand of tissue, at all times. Getting sand in the eye is something that happens TO YOU. The alarm rings and wakes YOU up. One has to pee several times a day. One gets tired and falls asleep. One hears a loud noise. Things are happening TO YOU all the time.
    One merely needs to be alive for all these things to happen. If you aren't there, these things don't happen. You have no cold, no eye irritation, no waking up, no peeing in YOUR toilet. No one sleeping on YOUR pillow.
    "Victim-ness -- being somewhat violently if delightfully 'handled,' bent, swerved, ruptured, track-skipped (assaulted!)" -- happens all day long by all sorts of events.
    An aware photographer is "violently if delightfully 'handled,' bent, swerved, ruptured, track-skipped (assaulted!)" by all sorts of sights and events, not just serendipitous ones.
    My sense of serendipity is that it's more about being a particular kind of alignment of events.
    One aspect of the original definition of serendipity that is often missed is the "sagacity" of being able to link together apparently innocuous facts to come to a valuable conclusion.​
    It is the discovery aspect, the fortuitousness, and the suggestion of fate (or coincidence, or fortune, or the stars aligning) that is the key. It's got to be much more than it happening to YOU and that it ruptures your awareness.
  80. "sagacity" ... "link" ... "alignment" ... "valuable conclusion" ... "key"....
    NOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooo ..... no, no, NO, NO!!!
    [dance instructor holds head in excruciating pain and misery; some people just can't feel the sound ... ]
  81. Thinking some about the victimhood aspect and the claim that "f you are meticulouly prepared, armoured, wary, careful, well-defended, or always shoot first -- spots will still sometimes appear on your face!"
    The above is true. But, living in a big city, I've learned that one can increase or decrease the odds of being a victim. For instance, most of us now know, especially when riding public transportation, to keep our wallets in our front, not our back, pockets. Sad to say that, as a kid growing up in NY, I learned that when someone was acting crazy on the street, it was best to cross to the other side well in advance of their approach and also to try to avoid making eye contact and you reduce your chances of being a victim. When I moved to San Francisco (a million years ago), I quickly learned how to "cruise" in order to increase my odds of having a "chance" encounter with a cute guy in the Castro. Now, sure, if I walked with my head down and wore baggy instead of tight jeans, I might still have that chance encounter, might still have use for that kleenex in my pocket and might still be the "victim" of the spot appearing on my face. But, that confident look, extra tear in the right place in my jeans (at the time), and just enough gel in my hair could really help matters along.
    Same with the camera. You can be cruising with your camera or not. And it makes a difference . . . serendipitously speaking.
  82. Julie, we posted simultaneously. You haven't made clear what you think serendipity is that isn't the same thing as any other event or series of events that happens to a person. In my mind, you are de-serendipity-izing serendipity by excluding what makes it serendipity from the definitions.
    I mean, I can say that a "table" is not usually a plane surface with legs or a base that one typically eats on or works at and I can say it with a whole bunch of passion behind it, but that won't mean that I haven't neutered the definition of table when I say a table is nothing but an object that is not myself.
  83. Since the definitions of serendipity I read repeatedly emphasize the intersection of chance event and fortunate discovery, the detection and seizing on that chance event by the photographer is necessary to meet the conditions imposed by the definition. Photographing completes serendipity. Otherwise, it is like two parallel or diverging lines that never intersect.
  84. Isn't discovery maybe the key word here? It's only there when caught - and that's partially something happening to you, but it's also something you need to do (eyes open, ready to see it).
  85. Exploring for serendipity. I think that makes some sense, as Wouter also seems to say in invoking the discovery aspect. However, it probably has both its positive and negative aspects in regard to serendipity. If you arrive at something you perceive as being interesting and you seize it right away without exploring further you may well have a great image and you might even not have noticed some things going on that led to a serendipitous result. This is probably what can be called pure and happy chance in respect of serendipity. If you instead flow with the subject matter, develop further the idea of the initial perception, or reject it for new perceptions, and actively seek out other ways of considering your subject matter, are you diminishing or improving the possibility that happy accidents will occur? Discovering something in itself is perhaps not serendipity (the discovery result is already known), although the continuing process of exploring a subject may expose the photographer to many more situations that can contribute to the final image. When we don't completely control what we are seeing, yet are exploring many different possibilities and control some part of what we are doing, does that allow greater potential for a serendipitous result? Maybe. I think that glass is a bit more than half full.
  86. [dance instructor holds head in excruciating pain and misery; some people just can't feel the sound ... ]​
    Disagree with the prima ballerina and you just don't get it! I must have two left feet.
  87. Arthur, I think you're describing two aspects of a process there. The discovery/serendipity part, the fortunate surprise part, then going outside that initial aspect, but something I would include as part of the "S" process, the development/exploration part. The mining of the discovered vein is part of making the most out of it.
    In science, think of the discovery of LSD, which was via self-contamination by chance. The experimenters realized the source, then went into deep exploration mode.
    I think it can work in the same way for artists, though photographers tend to be eat-and-run gluttons. I have mentioned before that I spend time looking through amateur snapshot collections to appropriate chance events, compositions, techniques that occurred undetected in the photography of others that I can use. Are frozen chance events discovered serendipitous? I think not, since I am intently looking or datamining in places I think are likely to yield results.
  88. There's something pleasingly oxymoronic about exploring for serendipity. Kind of like . . .
    A little free association here. The LSD reference made me think of a song from a Broadway musical (and that, I'm fairly sure, is more genetic than serendipitous -- LOL):
    "I know how it feels to have wings on your heels
    And to fly down a street in a trance.
    You fly down a street on the chance that you'll meet
    And you meet not really by chance."
    --Hello Young Lovers from The King and I
    Two things here. First, chance may be more predetermined than we give it credit for, or at least we'll never know for sure. And second, a photographer with wings on his heels may be in a better position than one who's out looking for it to encounter serendipity.
  89. One day we were born. And one day we will die.

    A wise person once said:
    Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.

    Are our photos important? Are other photographers work important? Maybe they are, maybe not.

    I believe that we do what we do because of our belief system. And I also believe that things happen for a reason. Those reasons might be:

    1) Our intentions and beliefs

    2) Other peoples intentions and beliefs

    If it happens to me it is because of my own intention or because of the lack of such. If I don't have any intentions, I will end up being part of some else's intentions.

    The serendipity we experience in life might not be what we expected. But it might be caused by our own intentions and belief system. I believe it to be part of a chain reaction that will bring us to our goals or dreams. On the other hand, if we expect disaster of failure, we will have that instead.

    Today has been a special day for me. It started out with a beautifull sunsrise and some pictures with very special light (for me at least). A few hours later a little pet of mine died. He has been with me for four years. Now he is gone. His little soul has moved on. Tonight there was a beautifull sunset. It was like the last farewell from him. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. But I felt the need to make pictures from this sunset. The pictures might not turn out perfect in quality, but the colors where great. And the stars where shining in this frosty winter night.
  90. The following are quotes from Roland Barthes on haiku. I think haiku are often (but not always or necessarily) about experiences of serendipity:
    "Comparison between haiku and the "mental jolt" (satori) > It could therefore be said: a (good) haiku sets a bell ringing > triggering, as the only possible remark: "That's it!""
    "In my glass of saké
    A flea swims
    (Issa, Coyaud)"
    "Absolutely: an audacious yet remarkable translation, for it refers indiscriminately: (a) to the referent: the flea swims with undeniable energy; (b) to the haiku itself: there's no interpretative relativity whatsoever: there's nothing to be said about it. -- Absolutely would be the haiku's motto."
    "A kind if instantaneous, fleeting, and dazzling harmony between the saying and the said, cf. Virginia Woolf: "little daily miracles," "matches unexpectedly struck in the dark.""
    " ... in order to sketch out an explanation of "good" haiku, I constantly find myself having to refer, not to the Beautiful as such, but to an absolutely personal disposition ..."
    "For me, the enchantment, the "truth" of this haiku has to do with a hyperconsciousness: acute, pure consciousness, with no interposition.
    "Difficult to say why I find it beautiful"; what this actually represents is not an incapacity on my part but, on the contrary, the founding premise of haiku; its nature (its aim) is to silence, at last, all metalanguage; therein lies haiku's authority: perfect harmony between this speech and my (rather than anyone else's) "incomparable" self > I = someone who can't speak of himself / who can't be spoken, not because he's unlike anyone else but because he's unlike "anything" else: no generality, no Law. I is always a remainder -- and it's there that it encounters haiku."​
    Barthes goes on to say how any trace of narrative kills haiku (for him) ... but I'll spare you the quotes.
  91. I think it has not been mentioned earlier, but one answer to the question on how to prepare oneself for serendipity, is, at least for me, to benefit from the long list of artists that have treated the question implicitly or explicitly, throughout history of art. Much of the development in painting from classical and academic art towards impressionism, cubism, expressionism, abstraction etc etc is a series of always new temptation to show new and serendipitous ways of presenting the world we live in - and beyond. As viewers, or in some cases, as painters, such works of art can be essential for our visions and readiness of "seeing" new serendipitous visions and dimensions that sometimes find their reflections in our photographical work.
  92. I'm afraid we are at risk of losing any intelligible meaning for serendipity if we give it too wide a berth. I suddenly want to ask the question, "What ISN'T serendipity?"
    I think especially "schools" of art, like Impressionism, Expressionism, Abstraction have little to do with serendipity, though I'm sure all the practitioners within those schools experienced it. I think such things mostly develop out of hard work, skill, intentional vision, evolution over time, reactions to past ways of doing things, direct exploration and searching, and a commonness of sensibility in a particular time in history which often cuts across various lines and extends from the scientific world to the cultural world to the philosophical world to the political and artistic worlds. That themes and trends in vision and understanding can be seen in the science, politics, and art of the times is often no accident and, for me, not all that serendipitous.
    Serendipity, IMO, is a kind of experience we all have. Artists use it as they use most other experiences, to help them create art, whether through its inspirational qualities or by trying to capture it or represent it. I enjoy it when it happens and enjoy using it. I don't think it's any more a driving force in art than it is in other human endeavors and don't think it's more a driving experience or force in art than other types of experiences.
  93. Fred, I understand what you are getting at by defining what something isn't rather than what it is. Two points in that regard. Firstly, I don't think it is at all easy to define serendipity anyway, whether as some specific phenomenon or a type of chance that occurs, or of some behaviour or characteristic of the photographer's spirit or his modus operandi. Also, I would not say that art movements as encompassing in nature as impressionism, expressionism, surrealism, abstract art, or minimalist music, can exclude serendipity. In fact, I wouldn't be very surprised if composers like Philip Glass stumble upon some solutions for their music as much as they plan them. Same for many abstract artists, who are guided by compositional and chromatic rules but are very open to the way the the creation can be very fluid before it is set. I tend to think that it is not art movements, but certain specific art styles, that are the more refractory to serendipity. Journalistic photography is often too directed or time restricted to allow much serendipity (although there are exceptions to this, of course, owing in part to the complexity and changing nature of the scenes they are photographing). Marriage photography sometimes can welcome serendipity, just as advertising photography, but again they are often very rigid, directed and planned. Serendipity probably requires much freedom to flower and a relative lack of overly specific direction. Those qualities, if they are such, occur just as often to workers within art movements as in the absence of the latter.
    I completely agree with what you say in your final paragraph, and which is said very well. Having said that, I think that perhaps the word "phenomenon" is a more serendipitous descriptor of what is happening than the term "driving force".
  94. I would believe on could say that serendipity in some cases, is behind the work of groundbreaking artist in the making of what would become new movements - that becomes artistic style for followers. When Monet, Renoir, Sisley and joined by Cezanne, Pissaro and others, started what would become the impressionist movement, they did that on the basis of totally new visions on how to depict reality in paintings (light, movements, composition...). There are serendipitous elements in these new visions; just as it was the case when Braque and Picasso "competed" in creating a cubist vision of reality. This is "hard work" as any just superficial reading of these artist efforts and life will tell. Serendipity is not an "easy way" to creativity. You might experience a flash of a serendipitous phenomenon lying in your sofa, but to translate such phenomena into visual expressions (painting, sculpture, photography) is, for most that succeed or fail, hard work of a lifetime (ref. Cezanne and Sainte-Victoire).
    No-one has said that serendipity is confined to artistic expressions. Serendipity is as mentioned several times a central phenomenon in science as it is in daily life of some few. I don't belive we all have it and maintain the capacity to experience it unless we choose to use the term for more common experienced unusual phenomena like rain on a sunny day. As mentioned in the launching of this thread, Bahramdipity exist (the non-experience of serendipity) and, for me at least, there are signs that serendipity is less frequent, the more we depend on controlled and targeted on-line "search" activities in life. We might not be opening more and more our eyes to the outer world, but slowly closing them !
  95. Monet, Renoir, Sisley, and Bazille studied under the same teacher. They were friends and painted together. They gathered often at the same cafe, where they were later joined by Pissaro and Cezanne. Movements tend to be collaborative. Elements of the individuality they brought to these movements might have been more serendipitous, but I wouldn't give serendipity a whole lot of credit for the movement itself.
    One might say Picasso stumbled upon cubism serendipitously or even worked hard at cubism and that serendipity was a force or phenomenon behind it. Then one looks at Cezanne's later work and sees a precursor to cubism. There is a flow in art that suggests much more linkage and not what I would call serendipity, not what I would relegate to happy accident.
    Of course there is innovation and I'm not detracting from any school when I say we can look back historically, find roots and influences, and realize there is a chain of connection from one historical movement to the next, including the one which caused the Impressionists all to react so strongly against the realists who were being again and again favored by the salons of the time.
    I don't see a lot of this as a matter of chance. I think most artists are, in so many ways, out looking for it, driven to react against the prevailing esthetics and sometimes morals of the time and playing off history, and each other, very intentionally and with strong intentional and determined visions to do so. Yes, they would allow unexpected discoveries into their work. But they were driven by visions for the most part that are not terribly good examples of serendipity, IMO.
  96. I don't in any way want to lessen the importance of each of us utilizing serendipity and being aware of it in our lives and work. It is a wonderful experience/phenomenon and does have inspirational and creative aspects. The experience of it is a welcome joy. I think how we might see it in photos and make use of it, open ourselves up to it, etc. has been a great discussion and, despite our disagreement at this point, I thank Anders for bringing it up and focusing us on it.
  97. The important thing about serendipity is the very unplanned nature of it. It happens everywhere in our lives and affects us strongly and we usually just call it chance. I see few boundaries of its exclusion in many media of expression and other human activity, although some artists choose to use fixed approaches, practices or styles that can diminish the possibilities of it occurring. Although it's nature and its mode of occurrence is difficult to predict or pin down it is an important collaborator and it adds to the joy of discovery and creation in our medium of expression. Thanks also to Anders for generating this quite interesting OP and to the contributors for running so well with it.
  98. Arthur, just to be sure there's no misunderstanding (because you used the term "exclusion"). I certainly do not mean to in any way exclude serendipity from art. I was hoping I'd made that clear. I think serendipity happens as often to painters as to scientists and plumbers and teachers and drunks. I just don't think it has a particularly unique relationship to art and certainly not to art movements. One might say it is serendipitous that Monet, Renoir, Pissaro, and Cezanne lived in the same era. That doesn't really tie serendipity to Impressionism in any interesting or informative way.
  99. What does serendipity have to do with Monet, Renoir, Pissaro, and Cézanne?
  100. I don't in any way want to lessen the importance of each of us utilizing serendipity and being aware of it in our lives and work.​
    I'm not reluctant to suggest that some are confronted to serendipitous phenomena more than others and some are able to translate it into photography more than others. It would be false to suggest that we are all equal in front of serendipity ,although I agree, it is very nice to say such things to keep everybody happy. Equally, I would believe at least as a hypothesis, that some are loosing serendipity more rapidly than others (ref to my mentioning of google search and the like).
    Concerning serendipity and art, trying to answer also Julie's question, when I refer to impressionism or cubism, and one could make the same argument with abstract expressionism (though more difficultly), the movements as such have next to nothing to do with serendipity, but the basic visions of such movements and their translation into a visionary language in painting (as mentioned the treatment of light, movements and colors in impressionism, the cubist breakdown of reality) are inventions on line with some scientific discoveries of one or a few creative individuals - others follow and further develop it, making it into a movement or style.
    To refer to the fact that some of these painters lived near each others, as a serendipitous phenomenon, is by sure false. They met and lived near each others (forget Cezanne for a moment) because they follow the same movement, the same expositions and wanted to work together closely.
  101. Anders, just checking to make sure you didn't read me wrong. There is no serendipity in the fact that they lived near each other. I said one might consider it serendipitous that they lived in the same era. That was a fortunate and chance occurrence and it led to a great collaborative discovery. But, IMO, the serendipity was in the timing of their births and the fortune was the development of a cohesive school of painting, but had nothing to do with the specific character of Impressionism itself.
    I, of course, also didn't suggest that we are all equal in terms of utilizing or recognizing serendipity, and I actually don't think such equality would necessarily be a nice thing at all. I said that painters, plumbers, drunks, and photographers would seem to be equally susceptible to it and, perhaps, to recognizing it (though we might discuss that further). In other words being prone to serendipity, I think, has little to do with things like level of creativity, IQ, class, wealth, or level of skill with ones hands. I think any individual may be in tune with it more than any other individual. I don't find that artists are particularly more in tune with it than people engaged in other endeavors. Ironically, it may be that some artists and philosophers are more prone to using their imaginations somewhat wildly to stretch what others might consider significant events, occurrences, and situations into serendipitous ones.
  102. As for groups of people and instances of serendipity, I wonder if lovers are the most prone group. ;-)
  103. There's two things at work here: Potentially useful, positive, synergistic chance events happening. Do those happen in an even random fashion? Or do they cluster? Second, detection.
    As to the first part, be there. When wanting to catch fish, it probably helps to be near fishy-looking water, and to keep the bait in the water. What looks like a rich environment for chance events? I do not think events cluster around particular people, is often said that 10% of the fishermen catch 90% of the fish. While probably untrue, there's disproportion there. Learning to recognize good fishy habitat helps. If you want to trip a land mine, find a mine field.
    The second as per the definition, involves sagacity. Develop that, and one is more likely to detect the chance events going on around them. This is IMO, what gives the impression that some people are serendipity magnets.
    The more we assume nothing can get past us, the more likely torrents of s-events are flooding the area around us. One has to have an open enough mind to think that there's more out there than we know, and that we need to keep an eye out for patterns (or more importantly pattern breaks) while going about other things.
  104. "the movements as such have next to nothing to do with serendipity, but the basic visions of such movements and their translation into a visionary language in painting (as mentioned the treatment of light, movements and colors in impressionism, the cubist breakdown of reality) are inventions on line with some scientific discoveries of one or a few creative individuals - others follow and further develop it, making it into a movement or style." (Anders)
    Neither true or false, I think. Certain movements and artists can make hay with serendipity, but what I think it really boils down to is how the artist uses those serendipitous and unplanned occurences. Picasso played with a camera with a broken lens and to some degree it fed him the idea of photographed faces broken into different planes. Did cubism follow from that, or was it already in his mind? Maybe the serendipity of a broken camera at a friend's studio and the effect of the broken lens imaging for Picasso helped or even spurred the creation of cubism? He was likely already thinking along those lines and the broken lens pictorial results aided that development.
    So, not to beat to death the subject or its reasoning, I think serendipity is everywhere in life (affecting our careers, love life, plans) and it is simply a matter of recognising and making use of its occurence, or not. It's certainly not specific to only photography or art. Not even to the most sagacious of persons; sometimes intelligence (especially highly directed mental constructs) can sometimes be an enemy to its recognitiion and its use.
  105. Fred it seems that we speak beside each other, which would not be the first time. I do not in any way hint at a relationship between the experience of serendipity and "creativity, IQ, class, wealth, or level of skill with ones hands". I might think that the ability of expressing serendipitous phenomena into photography or painting demand certain capabilities linked to for example creativity and in some cases skills with your hands, depending on the media you use. I did not either hint at a higher likelihood of being prone to serendipity for artist rather than other "professions" - and yet a certain openness to the unexpected is needed, which might mark some professions more than others.
    When it comes to our small exchange on "living in the same area" I would agree with you if the "area" in question is the Republic of France. I was more local and see the area as Paris and near suburbs, which Cezanne lived far from most of his life and many others moved to be together with little serendipity in play.
    I agree with Luis on his fishing analogy, but I would still think that people that search for serendipity are prone to serendipity already - or likewise you would rarely be searching for good fishing waters if you were not a fisherman of passion.
  106. Arthur, I agree with much of what you say.
    I would differ, however, on the matter of sagacity and its role here, since I think it's important. I don't identify sagacity with intelligence which might be considered an enemy to the recognition of certain things, though I think not terribly often. Sagacity is a kind of keenness, farsightedness, practical acuteness. I think it suggests the power of discernment, even shrewdness. I don't think a definition of "serendipity" that includes sagacity is limiting sagacity to intelligence.
  107. Anders, I don't know why you keep referring to anything I said anything about "area." I said "ERA", not AREA. I have no idea why you brought AREA up and my only discussion about area was to tell you that I didn't use the word.
    I mentioned that these artists gathered at the same cafe (if that's what you're thinking of when you attribute any mention of area to me) to show that they collaborated intentionally on their art, as a suggestion that the development of Impressionism had more to do with that kind of intentionality and a reaction to realism and several other things and not on serendipity.
    Artists use serendipity creatively. They tend to use everything they experience creatively.

  108. Luis: "Part of photography is the difference between our brain-processed way of seeing and the camera's brainless version. Both are materially mediated, of course. At first, the difference is vast, what we see is not what we get"​
    I think this discussion confirmed a uniquely photographic creative dimension. Paintings and drawings are closed, "materially mediated" as you say, expressions - whereas photos can be much more open-ended. I could sagaciously leave the door open for unsought things with a wider angle lens. I could choose a camera or process known for its artifacts (especially ones that resemble other media!).
    Fortuitous splashes and drips are the joy of Abstract Expressionists painters. Sagacity, and intuition, all contribute but for them subconscious deliberativeness - if you will - informs their creation and not serendipity. Working with extreme deliberativeness the Super Realists painter strives not to be photo-realistic but to mimic the effects of light with NONE of the ambiguity of the photo.
  109. Fred, you may well be right about the role of sagacity. However, I think that shrewdness, astuteness (not acuteness or faresightedness, which are other qualities I think), discernment, penetrating vision or determinedness, while positive and intelligent characteristics of man, seem to me to be too considered and deliberate to be causal in serendipity. Perhaps my interpretation of serendipity is more related to happy chance, luck or accidents, which are extrinsic to sagacity or to any visual acuity or shrewdness of the artist. Perhaps sagaciousness allows the artist to easily recognize the accident once it happens and to use it, but it is not as likely I think to lead him to it. On the other hand, exploration, restlessness, desire for fantasy, and "using everything they experience" (you are I believe right on there) are probably the most important approaches to facilitating exposure to, and the conditions of, serendipitous phenomenon.
  110. Great Fred, you are right on the Café.
  111. Alan, that's a great photographic point. I think it's really important to recognize how the characteristics of a chosen medium play a role in the different ways we can use that medium.
    It also seems important that photography and painting are also more than these materials, with which the fully realized practitioners become intimately familiar. So a painter as well as a photographer can sagaciously leave many doors open in term of their vision, their expressions, even the rhythms with which they work, no matter the differences in materials they use.
    A painter might paint a mural as a comparable change to what a photographer can do with a wider angle lens. The photographer may still be allowing for more unsought elements with his lens but the painter can certainly allow for more and more different types of elements and more unsought relationships of elements with a bigger-than-life canvas. Hey, a painter could rig up a machine that would throw buckets of paint at canvases, or any other number of devices to change his use of materials to allow for more possibilities which could lead to serendipity.
    Arthur, I don't know that sagacity is causal in serendipity. It is part of it, especially part of the recognition of it.
    BTW, I think bahramdipity is not the opposite of serendipity. As I read about it, it is the intentional suppression of serendipity, which I would see as stifling in certain situations and perhaps effective and wanted in other situations. But a mere lack of serendipity (without the suppressive aspect that bahramdipity implies) doesn't suggest anything of a problem to me. Using google to get a quick answer to something can allow you the time and freedom to do something else. Getting to where you're going without an accident is sometimes just the ticket. A straight line has its own kind of wonder.
  112. Fred thanks for coming back to bahramdipity. I would agree that we all draw benefits from the advancements in search machines. They save time and have the quality of what you find, has in more and more cases increased in quality. Where the dark side of this comes in, is that more and more, you don't fall on information that lies completely outside what you already expected and the frequency of serendipitous phenomena will potentially decrease.
    It is he same phenomenon in social networks, where you are sure to fall on people that are likewise to you. With such networks increasingly occupying our attention, independent of their size, we will potentially less and less meet people with opinions, knowledge, experiences and perceptions far from our own. We become fenced in, in what we already are and know about.
    Seen as such, bahramdipity is chosen by us, as you mention, but has the effect of potentially eliminating serendipity in our lives - unless we fight it and open our eyes, despite.
  113. As I said previously, my experience of search engines is completely different. I wind up falling on MORE information that lies outside of what I already expected. I'm actually quite surprised to hear of your very different experience with it. I am constantly clicking on links that take me to unexpected and unknown places. It's hard to imagine your experience being so much more predictable and direct. As with different ways of photographing, it might be a matter of one's behavior and practices while searching rather than the search mechanisms themselves. The engines would seem to cast a huge net if used in certain ways.
    I wonder how much we can eliminate serendipity, even if we were to try. Dreams might be a great source of it.
  114. But Fred, me too, surely, I have presently the same experiences as you.
    What I'm however referring to, are the trends and initiatives, by Google for example, but others are doing the same, that shows in which direction we are going. The continuous uploading of information on what you are doing; have done on the web; and where you click, is more and more being used for "targeting" your search results. The ultimate result of these initiatives, which are also commercial (ads etc), will be a decreasing trend of serendipitous information in front of your eyes. More efficient, maybe, but less room for serendipitous experiences on the web will be the result. To this can be added the social network phenomena.
  115. One the first page of the gorgeously serendipitous Elements* section of Nan Goldin's book, The Devil's Playground, she gives a poem by Wislaw Szymborska that I think gets at the conundrum of serendipity. The poem talks about that part of one that "disappears, returns, draws near, moves away," but then the poem ends with "whereas the body is and is and is / and has nowhere to go."

    [*This section of the book is landscapes, nightscapes, snowscapes, seascapes, desert-scapes and some people-in-landscapes. Not the Nan Goldin you may be more familiar with.]
  116. Anders, while I get your point and concern, I'm not yet sure whether I agree...
    Quite frequently I stumbled across new music I've grown to like, via music I already had (searching on the web). Bands, artists that otherwise would probably not have shown up on my radar. Not a drastically different type of music, sure. But it brought something new, that spurred me to other new things and set of a chain reaction, more or less.
    I have it very frequently with wikipedia, where I quickly want to look up something, follow a link and from there on, my evening exists of following links to all kind of other articles. Again, not a revolution in knowledge taking place, but following a thin thread of small intersections in history... And for all its flaws, Wikipedia is great for this with far more of these small facts, that a professional editor would cut out because they do not add to the full story.
    So even while they try to target me, they might just bring me something new, something I did not expect. But as said, I might grow to agree with you, since I think we're just at the start of this whole process of a 'personalised internet', and for reasons other than those you quoted, I am not too sold on it yet.
    Throughout the thread I firmly lost sight of what serendipity would be, so if I wandered completely off-topic, my apologies.
  117. Throughout the thread I firmly lost sight of what serendipity would be​
    The poem talks about that part of one that "disappears, returns, draws near, moves away," but then the poem ends with "whereas the body is and is and is / and has nowhere to go."​
    It's poetic, but . . . serendipity?
    The body, IMO, is no more consistent and no more at rest ("having nowhere to go") than whatever other part of one there is supposed to be in this split view of a person as part body and part something else. My best friend, who has multiple sclerosis, likens her body to the stock market, never knowing whether it will be up or down. Big, unanticipated swells and retreats. Perhaps it takes people whose bodies are so unpredictable for the rest of us to learn that the body is hardly a reliable companion or constant ("is and is and is"). Having just turned 58, I'm in pretty good shape, but am slowly learning about my body's unpredictability and "isn't-ness," or at least as much "isn't-ness" as that illusory "other part" of me.
    Speaking of bodies, I came across a fun quote from Cybil Shepard:
    "I had the serendipity of modeling during a temporary interlude between Twiggy and Kate Moss, when it was actually okay for women to look as if we ate and enjoyed life."
  118. Wouter- "Throughout the thread I firmly lost sight of what serendipity would be"
    Some of the redefinitions here distended it until it was indistinguishable from the background radiation.
  119. I employ L. Pasteur's "Chance favors the prepared mind." epigram to express a slightly contrary view that scattered and superficial knowledge is a positive trait for a serious serendiptician. Seduced by the yawning Wicki rabbit hole we may not easily return. A new psychiatric disorder classification: serendipendancy syndrome will be added to the DSM list.

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