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Curious Frame - Issue #30 - The Concept of Chance

Curious Frame
Curious Frame - Issue #30 - The Concept of Chance
By Leanne Staples • Issue #30 • View online
A dominant theme in Curious Frame is the concept of change. Photography has changed so much in our everyday lives. I suspect that we will never really understand half of it.
In previous issues I’ve written about; how photography has influenced art (Issue 23), how photography has an effect on our concept of memory (Issue 14) and how photography has influenced social justice (Issue 28) to name a few examples.
The thing they I haven’t really written about yet is the concept of chance. Chance is one of the prime influences on change. 
Chance is, of course, a major influence in street photography as well. Being in the right place at the right time is always about chance and being prepared to capture it. 
The more time that I spend on both street photography and lens-based art, the more I realize how important the idea of chance is to photography. So this issue is about chance.
To my dear friend in Brazil, I do hope that the situation in there will get better soon and that you’ll be able to get a vaccine. Best wishes and stay safe to everyone during these difficult times.
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Reader's comments:
Don’t keep those thoughts to yourself. Curious Frame is about dialogue and I’d love to hear your comments or even questions or inspirations. And it’s easy. Just hit reply in your email.
Your opinions are valued. No advanced degrees or education required.
One reader wrote about the previous issue:
Framing is also the curation you do in your works for publication, in an essay to be edited in a publication or for an exhibition on a gallery wall. Editing a book with your work is one of the most difficult frameworks and needs a lot of inspiration and technique to do it.
Framing is the essence of photography and personalizes your photo, your frame is your trademark!
Another reader wrote in response to Issue 14 on Memory:
I enjoyed reading your thoughts on photography and memory and seeing all the photos you included — especially the one of your political ancestor and the lovely one of you as a child (a bit Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and Clarence White-ish😉).
While not at all the primary function of street or fine art photography, inherent in every image, of course, is the photograph’s capacity to create/sustain a memory. I like what Michael Kenna said in an interview in the first issue ofPhotoWork: “Perhaps most intriguing of all is that it is possible to photograph what is impossible for the human eye to see - cumulative time.”   
Thank you for your comments!
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Change & Chance in Photography
Change in Greenwich Village, New York City, August 2008.
Change in Greenwich Village, New York City, August 2008.
It is through chance that you are reading this newsletter. And perhaps the internet and social media have contributed to that both as more people are likely to discover it and at the same time, because of the sheer multitude of websites available, the more difficult it can be to find it. 
In life we spend so much time organizing every thing. It takes many routines and patterns of habit for us to accomplish all the things that we need to do to manage to eat, sleep and pay the bills. More than we even think about.
But in all areas of creativity, chance is how we are able to come up with new and novel ways to do things in a different manner. Perhaps there’s a muse with the name Chance.
Fall II, 1970, by Bastiaan Johan Christiaan "Bas Jan" Ader. He was a Dutch conceptual and performance artist, and photographer. His work was in many instances presented as photographs and film of his performances. His performances were about chance. In his final performance in 1975, Ader was lost at sea attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean from the American coast to England sailing in a thirteen-foot sailboat. His deserted vessel was found off the coast of Ireland on 18 April 1976, offering few clues as to his fate.
Fall II, 1970, by Bastiaan Johan Christiaan "Bas Jan" Ader. He was a Dutch conceptual and performance artist, and photographer. His work was in many instances presented as photographs and film of his performances. His performances were about chance. In his final performance in 1975, Ader was lost at sea attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean from the American coast to England sailing in a thirteen-foot sailboat. His deserted vessel was found off the coast of Ireland on 18 April 1976, offering few clues as to his fate.
The word chance derives from the Latin word chaunce meaning accident or to fall and the French word hasard. While the English word for hazard derives from the French, the meaning is not so strictly about a dangerous situation.
 Maybe the best way to experience change is by accident, otherwise we will probably play it safe even when there isn’t much to lose. The performance artist Bas Jan Ader (shown above) had a different take on the idea of chance.
Chance is also often a side effect of mistakes, of having the unexpected happen. Chance is the things that we didn’t plan. 
At the Coffee Shop, New York City, April 2019.
At the Coffee Shop, New York City, April 2019.
I have written before that street photography is my happy accident. I didn’t know that street photography existed. Rather, I wanted to take photos of buildings but people kept walking into my photos. 
It’s also possible that if I hadn’t lost my patience and continued to take photos with people walking through them, I may never have gotten into street photography. I hadn’t intended to. It happened by chance. 
Oh, chance is sometimes also used interchangeably with luck. Luck is also one of those things that you can’t predict or control but you can create situations where it might be more possible to get lucky. 
Francis Picabia’s “Tableau Rastadada” (1920).Credit.The Museum of Modern Art, 2014 Francis Picabia Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.
Francis Picabia’s “Tableau Rastadada” (1920).Credit.The Museum of Modern Art, 2014 Francis Picabia Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.
In Dada art, chance was something that artists actively pursued. Taking the element of organization out of the equation was sought after. Randomly choosing images and utilizing photos to create collage was one of the methods used. 
So chance for the Dadaists as well as many other artists and genres of art became the opposite of reason and they used techniques without a previous idea in mind of the results. They were random or at least as random can truly be.
The Surrealists and Dadaists created games and made making art fun. Games of chance are opposite of the seriousness which artists and the art world typically embrace and which we tend to believe is necessary for it to be considered art. 
Dora Maar, by Man Ray, 1936. While Maar was a muse of Picasso and he painted her many times, she also modeled for Ray as in this photo of her. She was also an artist in her own right.
Dora Maar, by Man Ray, 1936. While Maar was a muse of Picasso and he painted her many times, she also modeled for Ray as in this photo of her. She was also an artist in her own right.
The photographer and artist Man Ray was quoted as saying that he learned “to produce accidents at will.” Accidents aren’t always a negative thing. Rather, they are merely the things we didn’t plan. 
The true pioneers in art including photography, dared to take chances and even to allow themselves to make s0-called mistakes. We rarely allow ourselves to paint outside the lines. You could say that it’s easy for us to repeat the same formulas over and over again.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting new results. As artists we need to allow ourselves to question the so-called rules and the generally accepted ideas of how to make a photo.
Robert Frank, Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955 Danziger Gallery, from his classic book, The Americans.
Robert Frank, Hoboken, New Jersey, 1955 Danziger Gallery, from his classic book, The Americans.
I was tired of Romanticism… I wanted to present what I saw, pure and simple. Robert Frank
Robert Frank has been described as the first photographer of the snapshot aesthetic. Yes, there is an official category with that name.
While Frank never called himself a street photographer as far as I know, he also didn’t label himself as a snapshot photographer as well. What’s important is that he made a conscious decision to take photos as he saw them, not as he wanted them to appear. 
The Americans was the first collection of published photography that illustrated the snapshot aesthetic. I guess, you are wondering how I managed to make a leap between the concept of chance and snapshot photography. 
Daido Moriyama
Daido Moriyama
Daido Moriyama is one of a number of “street photographers” that called their work snapshots or took photos in that style. Moriyama takes photos in rapid succession. It isn’t about composition. It’s about capturing the moment as it is, flaws and all.
His style of shooting is very much spontaneous, that is to say that the element of chance has much to do with his work. Like Frank, Moriyama was not interested in romanticizing photography.
50% Off, Washington Heights, 3 May2021. I took this photo using my lift and shoot technique.
50% Off, Washington Heights, 3 May2021. I took this photo using my lift and shoot technique.
Chance rejects logic and reason. While you can’t create chance per se, you can create strategies and situations in which chance has more opportunity to appear. 
More and more these days when I’m out shooting I do one of a few different methods. Lift and shoot is what I did in the above photo while walking.
It is very similar to shooting from the hip as your eyes are not on the camera. Rather they are on the street and it’s done while walking. They are both spontaneous and utilize the element of chance.
Smoking, Lower East Side. 17 April 2021. Shooting from the hip.
Smoking, Lower East Side. 17 April 2021. Shooting from the hip.
I’ve written in the past about the fact that there is no way that photography can provide an objective viewpoint. That is a literal statement about we are able to capture in a photo.
The same is true about the worth of a photo in relation to the photos that we see everyday in advertising or art. There are many photos that are taken with intention that are not what they appear to be. They are fabricated and do mot represent Truth.
The idea of chance and of taking snapshots is interesting both in terms about ceding some of the control over directing the photo as well as the idea that there is more spontaneity about them and less of a preconception of what the photo should be.
Your Life, New York City, 3 April 2021
Your Life, New York City, 3 April 2021
Street photography and snapshots are similar to street art. As they have both become mainstream, we now have a group of people dictating what the worth of it is and who decides what is acceptable.
This is the same situation that Dadaists faced. Their art can be seen as a rebellion of the hierarchy that was created in the art world. The history of art, like many other things in life, has always been about who you know.
Photography was supposed to be the democratization of art. It’s available to everyone to create it. That isn’t to say that we will all like what everyone does or even that most of it could be considered art.
But snapshots are beginning to gain a reputation as real art. Whatever that means. That could be a good thing. It might also mean that it’s time to move on and try something new. Regardless, chance is gold when it comes to creativity of all sorts.
Curious Frame exists for dialogue. If you have comments, questions or suggestions all you need to do is hit the reply button. Bring it on!
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Further reading:
  • Iverson, Margaret, ed. Chance: Documents of Contemporary Art, Whitechapel Gallery & The MIT Press, 2010.
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Further viewing:
The Adventure of Photography // The Surrealists
The Adventure of Photography // The Surrealists
This video is about 25 minutes in length and provides and interesting overview of how photography was used by the Surrealists.
You can also find me at:
Artist, Photographer & Writer - Leanne Staples
Walking Photo Tours & Street Photography Workshops in New York City
Check out my shop with many new items for sale:
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Leanne Staples

In a world that is overpopulated with images, Curious Frame is where I share my thoughts on photography. It is always about ‘seeing with new eyes’.

I’m Leanne Staples, a photographer, artist, and writer living in New York City. Street photography and lens-based art are my passions, and Curious Frame is where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on these passions.

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