What are the chances of that?

Last week I heard a fascinating documentary on BBC Radio 4 about serendipity. This in itself was serendipitous: I would not normally have been driving my car at that time of day and am not a regular Radio 4 listener at the moment.

Of course, many great photographs come from a moment of serendipity. The photographer can be in a good location to make an image, but the thing that changes it from a good image to a great one may be entirely down to chance. The bystander glancing back into the frame, the clouds lighting the subject just perfectly as the shutter is released, the subject laughing suddenly.

You can work at getting into places (whether physical or metaphorical) where serendipitous moments are more likely to happen, and be prepared to take advantage of them when they do. The better prepared you are, the greater your ability to take advantage of any serendipitous moments that may occur. But conversely there is an argument that the better prepared one is, the less a moment can be said to have occurred through serendipity: If I am set up with a camera in a bird watching hide, it is serendipitous if a rare bird lands for me to photograph. However, I have done all I could to facilitate that sort of fluke moment. It would be more serendipitous if the bird landed in my living room whilst I was watching TV.

The documentary describes some of the things that help create moments of real serendipity: Slowing down, finding new places, setting aside time to think, deliberately letting your mind wander. It reminded me of a Guardian article I read a while ago in which artists from various disciplines describe how they find creativity, which is also well worth a read.

The documentary was investigating whether interconnected web systems like Google and Facebook reduce the chance of genuine serendipity occurring on-line. I suspect that they do but that’s a topic for another day.

If you’d like to hear the show, it’s available as a podcast / MP3 download from the BBC for the next three weeks.



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