“In the field of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind.” —Louis Pasteur
In a two-day workshop filled with dice, colored paper, 16 mm films, and a large stack of both made and found photographs, Jason Fulford led participants through an array of mental and physical exercises related to chance.
The workshop challenged participants to let go of what control they had over their own work, and instead allow chance to create new meanings within the photographs. The workshop started off with a field trip to the New York Public Library’s Reserve Film and Video Collection at Lincoln Center, where Fulford selected films that had to do with randomness—either by searching for the word “chance” or by letting chance choose the film. Participants were asked to prepare introductions that had to last 3 minutes and 33 seconds; some used visuals such as video while some told jokes or sang songs. The rest of the afternoon was spent back at Aperture doing exercises based off artists, composers, and writers who played or used chance in their own work, such as Conlon Nancarrow, Jean Arp, William S. Burroughs, and Kyoko Hamada. Exercises included the use of scraps of colored paper, lists of words, bottled ink, and found imagery, all used to experiment with various methods of perception, chaos, and pseudo-randomness.
Exercises continued into the second day of the workshop, with more emphasis on sequencing photographs that participants had both made and found. In one exercise, Fulford asked participants to choose two images that held a connection that they could not explain. Another included the use of Oblique Strategies, cards designed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt made in order to guide them and others through moments of pressure. These exercises were intended to keep participants thinking about how each one of them could approach photography—both their own and others’—in a new way that included chance and experimentation.
Jason Fulford is a photographer and cofounder of J&L Books. He is a Guggenheim Fellow, and a contributing editor to Blind Spot. He is a frequent lecturer at universities, and has led workshops across the United States and in Japan, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain. His monographs include Sunbird (2000), Crushed (2003), Raising Frogs for $$$ (2006), The Mushroom Collector (2010), Hotel Oracle (2013), and Contains: 3 Books (2016). He is coauthor with Tamara Shopsin of the photobook for children This Equals That (Aperture, 2014), and coeditor with Gregory Halpern of The Photographer’s Playbook (Aperture, 2014). Fulford’s photographs have been described as open metaphors. As an editor and an author, a focus of his work has been on the subject of how meaning is generated through association.
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