Trying in vain to depict the slobber of a panting animal, the Greek painter Protogenes ended up hurling a sponge at his picture. The accidental result was that he got the effect he was after. This anecdote, told by Pliny the Elder, is quoted by Pierre Soulages to explain the importance of accidents in painting.
In photography, accidents arise from the tools used. My own accidents bear the traces of silver image technology. There is no nostalgia about this, only a certainty that they are evidence of a precise moment in time.
When it happens, an accident is negative, an unfortunate event. This is why an aesthetic accident has to be a blunder, a disaster, a mistake. If it is deliberately sought (using plastic cameras, or vintage Smartphone applications, for example), it is just a stylistic effect.
The accidents which are important to me are those that have a certain fictional depth. They stretch time, creating the sensation of a tracking shot. The image is no longer detached from what is out of the frame. The leak of light fixes the images in another documentary dimension. Here, the accident reveals a specifically photographic blend of narrative and documents, poetry and the truth of the moment.
In all of my books, I have included images of unintended reality. Confronted with them, as with Protogenes’s sponge, one is in the presence of a small aesthetic miracle. I think all creative artists love the moment when the piece they are working on escapes their control.
The discovery of a successful accident brings a breath of happiness. To turn it into a fully-fledged work of art is an act of complicity with the public. It also demonstrates, through the absurd, the importance of improvisation – even the ‘bum-notes’ – in our work. It is evidence of a freedom of style. Like virtuoso jazz players who use free jazz to push their instruments to the limit.
The accident happens when one is totally open to those happy flukes that arise from disorder. It thwarts any sense of security, repetition, or control. And it is particularly necessary in real-life photography.