I only wanted Uncle Vernon standing by his own car (a Hudson) on a clear day, I got him and the car. I also got a bit of Aunt Mary’s laundry and Beau Jack, the dog, peeing on the fence, and a row of potted tuberous begonias on the porch and 78 trees and a million pebbles in the driveway and more. It’s a generous medium, photography.
A little while ago I heard of someone who was shooting a photo project in Japan, which was a meditation on the idea that a major earthquake could strike here sometime soon. This person had been to Japan a few times before, but as luck would have it, he was actually in the country on March 11—amazing, cosmic timing, right? I was curious to find out what became of the project, but as it turns out, he viewed the earthquake as an imposition; he was annoyed that he couldn’t complete the project as he’d previously envisioned it!
On the one hand, you could say this is a failure to be flexible in one’s thinking. Fair enough. But if the subject of your photography project was the possibility of a major earthquake in Japan, and you were not in Japan when a major earthquake hit, wouldn’t that just drive you up the wall? To actually be in Japan at that time, and effectively throw in the towel, strikes me as a misunderstanding of the medium. Unless you’re working in a studio, it’s not reasonable to expect control over anything—and it’s surprising that someone whose subject was the shifting of tectonic plates would not grasp this! Friedlander’s quote (and work) is perhaps the example of how to keep yourself open—to receive the unexpected not as an obstacle, but as a gift.