I read about Cartier-Bresson on Saturday. Apparently he was “renowned for spending long hours wandering the streets of Paris with his camera; sometimes waiting for hours on end for a particular coincidence of action to occur…’.
A particular coincidence of action. I like it. It resonates for me. Are we not all wandering around waiting for a particular coincidence of action to occur? For that moment where we stand outside ourselves to appreciate the synchronicity of life. We happen to be in a certain place, at a certain time and wonders unfold. Or, through a series of events and seemingly unrelated actions we end up in just the right place at the right time for love or creative fulfilment or discovery or progress. In those moments, we smile and experience the thrill of somehow being connected in to a bigger picture.
Henri Cartier-Bresson was a French photographer considered to be the father of modern photojournalism and a developer of street photography or the life reportage style. He was around for most of last century, given that he was born in 1908 and lived until he was 96.
Most of Cartier-Bresson’s photographs were taken on a 35 mm Leica with a 50 mm lens. He had three rules: he never contrived a picture, never used artificial light and never retouched the results. He thrived on accident and being alert for serendipity; those “happy accidents” or “pleasant surprises”; when you find something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.
The argument, here, is of course that Cartier-Bresson was searching for it, or, at least, waiting for it. So does that mean that there is an element of ‘build it and they will come’-ness to his appreciation of coincidence. Perhaps we see what we want to see because we need or seek to see it.
Carl Jung was the first figure in modern times to articulate the issue of coincidence and serendipity and gave the phenomenon the name synchronicity. For Jung, this was all tied in to his ideas about archetypes and the collective unconscious. Now, they are pretty fancy names for concepts that we all feel or are aware of, but decline from labelling them as such. We just live them. So, to explain, an archetype is a universally understood symbol, term, statement, or pattern of behaviour. Similar to a prototype, or an original version of a thing. According to Jung, in our humanness, we inherit certain universal psychic behaviour patterns, or templates of human experience and these inner ‘understandings’ colour the way we perceive and operate in the outer world.
We have to have an archetype or an unconscious view of the world to believe in, notice and give meaning to coincidence. Otherwise everything is random and the idea of coincidence is simply that, exact correspondance or a concurrance of events with no apparent connection.
My own response to a particular coincidence of action is Yes. Without the particular coincidence of action that occurred to bring me to this point, I would not be at this point. Obvious? Perhaps. Over-stating it? Certainly. But I like it nonetheless.