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• Thoughts & Photographs - 37 •
Other essays in this series
Pure Dumb Luck
Essay by Alain Briot
Fiction: Is it real? Yes. Did it happen? No.
Allen Woodman, Professor of English & Creative Writing
Northern Arizona University
1 - Introduction
I often get comments on my work regarding how it came to be created. Most comments focus on the difficulty of mastering what I consider to be an art form. These comments acknowledge that creating world-class landscape images is something that does not happen by accident. Rather, it is the result of years of training and practice and of being out there, working in the landscape, several hundred days a year.
However, a few comments take on a different path, pointing out that the outcome of my efforts is really due to luck. In other words, I am one of the luckiest individuals alive, because I have one of the largest collections of beautiful photographs. This opinion is the one taken by a small but powerful group who call themselves the Pure Dumb Luck Club. The original name of this club, who incidentally has members worldwide, was "World Class Photographs are the result of Pure Dumb Luck" but this name was found to be lengthy and shortened to "Pure Dumb Luck" shortly after the club was founded in 1921.
Far from me to argue with either positions. The first one is valorizing, so why should I take issue with it? The second one points to the fact that rabbit feet, four-leaf clovers, horseshoes and other objects said to bring good luck are unnecessary in my case. Why argue with this point? After all, most of us want to be lucky in life. Apparently I am lucky, so why put an end to a good thing or otherwise argue that such isn't the case and that my work is really the result of hard work, 25 years of study and practice and a heathy dose of determination ? Fact is, even when I tried (for I did try) it got me nowhere. Trying to explain that I am not lucky only results in Pure Dumb Luck Club members calling me a liar. Proponents of position number two have their minds made up and will not be bothered by the facts.
Therefore, in the face of unweaving determination on their part that the results of my efforts are the outcome of Pure Dumb Luck (say each word slowly as you read it ;-), my approach now is to simply say "Yes Sir" whenever confronted by a member of the Pure Dumb Luck Club. Furthermore, this approach protected me from the ire of this bunch and from further action on their part. Or so I thought. As we will see very shortly, I was quite wrong in this respect.
At first, things worked just fine. In fact, Pure Dumb Luck Club members liked me so much that I was offered a lifetime membership in their organization, membership that I gladly accepted. I thought "if you can't beat them, join them". As we are going to see, I should have read the fine print for this was going to come back and bite me. Live and learn, as they say.
2 - The proof is in the Pudding
Provided you like pudding, which I do, admitedly in moderate quantities. And again, let me clearly state that being originally from France, pudding was not part of my diet until later in life. Finally, while it seems to have nothing to do with the purpose of this essay, it will end up playing a role later on, when it comes to evidence, or proof if you prefer, later in this essay.
But I digress. This is after all an essay on Photography --sorry, on Luck -- and not on culinary delights. So let me refocus myself. What were we talking about ? Oh yes, pure dumb luck. And the whole point was to give you an example of it.
Saguaros & Horseshoe Bend
Unintentional, in-camera double exposure.
Linhof Master Technica 4x5, Rodenstock 210mm and Scheider 75mm
3 - Enter Saguaros & Horseshoe Bend
Here is a photograph which is the result of Pure Dumb Luck. And with it we enter a new chapter in the account of my long-term relationship with members of the Pure Dumb Luck Club. This new chapter in our relationship is called "Exhibit number 1". Even better, I am the one to provide this evidence. Usually, it is the opposition that provides incriminating evidence. However, and for a change, today it is the defense that does so. Why do I do so? Because we are about to go to court.
4 - vidence accepted by the bench
Or such nonsense that the courts like to use to obfuscate those of us that speak normally. But let me not digress again like I did before with British cuisine. No sir. This is a serious issue and we are in court.
Bailiff: All Rise!
Me: Well no, we won't go that far. You may remain seated. In fact, why don't you get another cup of coffee, or whatever else you may be drinking, and relax. I am not about to be convicted. At least not yet. Why? Well, you see, I do not contest the facts. In fact, I provided the evidence. Even better, I am pleading guilty. And finally, this is all made up anyway!
5 - Are you still with me?
At this point most of those who started reading this essay (essay means "attempt" in French and I am attempting very hard to do my best here) have fallen by the wayside. I only hope they won't sue me for wasting their time arguing that what they really expected from this essay was to learn how to take better photographs. Well, I would argue back that this essay is free and that being so no expenses were incurred and therefore no compensation can be expected. That, in short, liability is usually limited to situations in which one charges for his services, and that not having charged anything for this essay I cannot be sued for it being misleading, a waste of the reader's time or again a shame to the photographic community as a whole.
No I can't. I am quite sure of this fact but I do intend to consult a lawyer just in case. Finally, and to close this matter once and for all (hopefully) I do not see this essay as misleading, a waste of your time or a shame to the photographic community. But, this being a free country, you are free to perceive it in any way you like. However, if you are still reading, chances are you are enjoying it. That is the idea, so let me continue where I left off.
Because left off I did, unashamedly, though I do apologize, just in case. That way I have one more way to protect myself should this matter go any further.
6 - How Saguaros and Horseshoe Bend came to be
Plaintiff: We, members of the Plain Dumb Luck Club, expose Alain Briot as a fraud and claim that his photographs are the result of study, craftsmanship and experience rather than Pure Dumb Luck. We demand that he be found guilty of abusing the trust of our club, and of willfully breaking the laws that regulate the behavior of all members, specifically the passage in our bylaws that state, and I read from these bylaws, that "the photographic work of all members must be solely due to Pure Dumb Luck." Furthermore, we ask that this court finds that Alain Briot has used the Pure Dumb Luck club to further his own cause, deriving financial rewards from these doings. This constitutes fraud through the use of a legal entity for illegal purposes. We thereby request that Alain Briot be punished according to the laws of the State of Arizona, and forced to desist from his club membership immediately, something which he has refused to do although our club has asked him on three separate instances. Furthermore, we ask that he is exposed to public opprobrium for his actions, actions that throw a dark cloud over the photographic community as a whole.
Judge: Is this photograph the result of luck?
Me: Yes your Honor, this photograph is the result of Pure Dumb Luck. You see,what I intended to create was Sabino Saguaros and Horseshoe Bend which I am introducing now as exhibits 2 and 3. Unfortunately, being so out of it, I forgot to mark one of my 4x5 film holders as "exposed" and double-exposed it. In doing so, I superimposed, in the camera, one photo on top of the other.
Linhof Master Technica 4x5, Rodenstock 210mm
Linhof Master Technica 4x5, Scheider 75mm
Judge: How far apart are those two locations?
Me: Well miles apart your Honor. In fact, if we look at a map of Arizona, they couldn't be further apart! You see, one is nearly at the Utah Border, at the Northern end of the state, while the other is nearly at the Mexican border, at the southern end of the state! So yes, even if I tried (and, for the record, I want to state that I did not try) it so happens that they are as far apart as they could be while remaining in the state of Arizona.
Judge: And you mean to tell me that you superimposed these two photographs by accident? How could you be at those two locations one after the other by accident and on top of that photograph them on the same sheet of film? You just said they are at opposite ends of the state. They also happen to be two of the most beautiful locations in our state. Are you making fun of this court?
Me: Certainly not your honor. It is just luck, pure dumb luck.
Judge: They also look very nice superimposed on top of one another...
Me: Well, thank you your Honor. It is very kind of you to applaud me for my work. But in all honesty I have nothing to do with the outcome of this double exposure whatsoever. As the cost of repeating myself, I must insist that this photograph is the result of Pure Dumb Luck. It is not the result of knowledge, practice or talent. It is just an error on my part your honor. Here, let me destroy it. Fact is, I should have thrown it in the trash the minute I got my film back from the lab. Let me do it now.
Judge: That would be destroying evidence which is a crime.
Me: Well, that was never my intention. I just want to get rid of garbage. I don't keep my overexposed, underexposed, unexposed, or otherwise-exposed mistakes either. So why keep this one?
Judge: Evidence introduced to the court must remain in the court.
Me: Well, so be it then. But do keep in mind that I am the copyright holder and that any and all uses must be approved by me in writing before the photographs can be printed or reproduced.
Judge: Abusing your copyright is not the intention of this court.
Me: I never said it was. My intent is only to point out that I do not normally publish my work in court proceedings and that, in addition, I am not in favor of having my trash placed on public display.
7 - The twist
Would you like to dance? Well maybe not, so let me rephrase. After all this is a serious matter, and the difference between courtroom and ballroom was just pointed out to me. At any rate, twist there is.
Plaintiff: He is purposefully misguiding the attention of the court.
Judge: Stop twisting the facts.
Me: You say twist, as in twist of phrase?
Judge: No, I say twist, as in twisting the attention of this Court!
Me: Can you be more precise your honor?
Judge: Precise my arse! While the evidence proves that this is indeed an in-camera double exposure, it is the belief of this court that you deliberately, willfully and craftily created this double exposure for the sole purpose of ridiculing this court! It is our belief that you used your knowledge of photography, instead of just luck as your club membership requires, to create this image.
Me: But how could I know that this matter was going to go to court when I took these photographs?
Plaintiff: He continues his attempt at diverting the attention of the court!
Judge: Silence and order in the courtroom (gavel, gavel, gavel) ! One more word from you and I throw everyone out!
Me: That sounds a little exaggerated don't you think?
Plaintiff: The only thing which is exaggerated is his claim that this photograph is the result of luck!
Judge: The fact is that you may be lucky, but you can't be this lucky. No one can be this lucky. This is too much luck for anyone! Both single exposure photographs are beautiful. In regards to the double exposed image, the exposure is perfect, the composition is great, the colors are complimentary, it showcases the variety of landscapes in the great State of Arizona, and above all, I like it! How can I like a mistake, an error, or the result of Pure Dumb Luck? I am not such a person. What I like is the truth! And this is the truth: you did it on purpose! Guilty, guilty, guilty (gavel) !
Me: But guilty of what?
Judge: Of fooling this court and the public! Of pretending to be lucky when you are not. Of being a smart ass! Of joining a club for the sole purpose of using it and its members for your own aggrandizement!
Me: But, sir your Honor, I never claimed to be lucky. It is others who said so and in the face of their mind being made up and not wanting to be bothered by the facts I ended up agreeing with them and joining their club essentially because they won't take no for an answer...
Judge: Ahhh ! So you do confess that you do say to others that you are lucky! It is the conviction of this court that you are a con-artist, using luck as a way to disguise the true nature of your actions, passing yourself as lucky when you are actually a master at image manipulation. I condemn you to use your skills and your skills alone from now on. I condemn you to photograph the landscape without any luck whatsoever! I condemn you to use the same skills that anyone of us has. I also condemn you to write a letter of apology to the Pure Dumb Luck Club and of doing 40 hours of community service, giving presentations to photography clubs in the state of Arizona on the subject of "Why world-class landscape photography is not the result of luck."
Me: But this is what I have been doing all along, what difference will this make?
Plaintiff: We demand a more severe sanction. Our requirement is that he now photographs under the supervision of a Dumb Luck Club member at all times and that...
Judge: Silence in the courtroom (gavel, gavel, gavel) ! This court is now adjourned.
8 - The end - part one
There you have it. There is no way to be right in this situation. Disagree that you are lucky, and they call you a liar. Agree that you are lucky, and you are guilty of being a con artist. Want me to tell you what the truth really is? Well, sorry, but I am going to have to pass for fear of further incriminating myself. At this point, anything I may say can and will be used in a court of law. It already has? Well, see, I can't even keep track of how the court system works, let alone defend myself. What is a sued photographer to do? I guess I'll just go out and get lucky -- oops-- I mean go out and just use my camera in whatever way it is that I use it.
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Essay and photographs Copyright © Alain Briot 2006
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