It was 1974 when I happened to be roaming the halls of the MUW Art Department and bumped into the woman who would become my wife.
I was on a mission for a girl I had been seeing in Jackson. She had just taken a course in scuba diving and was enamored with a print of porpoises she’d seen in a collegiate art show. The porpoise print had been made by a W art student, who I was hoping to find. My friend wanted one of those prints.
That’s when I ran into Beth.
We’d been friends in high school but never dated.
We talked and realized we were at the same place in our lives.
We revived our friendship, which developed into a loving, lifelong relationship with a shared appreciation for the randomness and wonder of life.
Friday a friend emailed an inspirational message titled, “The Power of Pure Luck.”
“Almost every great thing in life starts with serendipity, someone — or something — new entering your life by chance,” the piece begins.
Another friend recently told me how he became a pilot. With graduation from MSU approaching, he was facing the likelihood he would be drafted and headed to Vietnam. One afternoon, while still a student, he went to the basement of the student union to shoot pool.
There he encountered a Marine recruiter.
The recruiter told the soon-to-be graduate that if he passed the tests, and made it through pilot training, he would get his wings.
He signed up, became a Marine pilot, had a career flying for an airline and, long after retirement, is still flying his own plane. Needless to say, flying has been a lifelong passion for him.
Would that have happened anyway? Maybe.
Every day we have chance encounters. Some are inconsequential, and some, on rare occasions, turn out to have profound, life-altering consequences.
For this to happen we have to recognize these moments for what they are and take appropriate action.
Sometimes it’s all about timing. What if I had visited The W’s art department on a different day? What if my friend had decided not to shoot pool that day?
Sometimes that window of opportunity can open and close in a blink.
Take the example of photographer Ansel Adams, whose “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico,” is perhaps one of the most recognizable photographs ever made.
If photography can be said to have a Mona Lisa, it is Adams’ “Moonrise.”
The picture was made on a lonely road in northern New Mexico on the last day of October, 1941.
Adams, along with his assistant and 8-year-old son had been photographing in the Chama Valley north of Santa Fe.
The photographer felt like the day had been a wash-out and was piloting his old Pontiac back to Santa Fe. And then Adams was presented with an opportunity he immediately recognized for what it was.
In the photographer’s words …
We were sailing southward along the highway not far from Espanola when I glanced to the left and saw an extraordinary situation—an inevitable photograph! I almost ditched the car and rushed to set up my 8×10 camera.
I was yelling to my companions to bring me things from the car as I struggled to change components on my Cooke Triple-Convertible lens.
I had a clear visualization of the image I wanted, but when the Wratten No. 15 (G) filter and the film holder were in place, I could not find my Weston exposure meter!
The situation was desperate: the low sun was trailing the edge of the clouds in the west, and shadow would soon dim the white crosses. I was at a loss with the subject luminance values, and I confess I was thinking about bracketing several exposures, when I suddenly realized that I knew the luminance of the moon—250c/ft2.
Adams couldn’t find his exposure meter to evaluate the brightness of the scene. With the setting sun, he had no time to rummage around for the missing instrument. He knew the luminance value of the moon and adjusted his lens accordingly.
He was just able to make a single exposure, before the graveyard with its white crosses, a critical part of the composition, fell into shadow.
“Chance favors the prepared mind,” Adams was fond of saying.
As for the porpoise print, I found its maker and was able to purchase one for my friend, grateful for the opportunity the quest to find it had presented.
Birney Imes ([email protected]) is the former publisher of The Dispatch.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.