At a recent show Let's Get Lost at Alaska Projects in Sydney I was drawn again to the images of Garry Trinh. Trinh is famous for capturing images from everyday life that are slightly off key, sometimes humorously strange but often just unexpected. He finds and records magic moments on the footpath and in parks, moments which, I would presumptuously suggest, most of us would miss.
In his latest show, for example, a bicycle rack and a sign next to each other are equally askew, as if they are both bending in a breeze. It is reality but as if it's in a parallel universe where different rules apply. The amazing ability of Trinh is that he continually and (seemingly) effortlessly captures this sort of image time and time again.
I left the exhibition enriched and with a heightened sense of my own eyes. I felt myself looking at the world a little more carefully, hoping that I would also come upon something miraculous. In this Trinh follows the line of Surrealist photographers that tried to capture, in André Breton's words (the major poet/theorist of Surrealism), rupture points, things that would unsteady our normal understanding of the world. Instead of trying to capture the real or indeed beauty, what Breton and the Surrealists wanted to discover was the "marvellous."
For them this was a point that broke down life's normal binaries: between life and death, man and woman, magic and rationality. For example the shop mannequin is the perfect example of the marvellous for Breton as it is spookily alive (even though we know deep down that it is inert). The point of the surreal was to be in between the real and the fantastical, but with one foot still in both. That's why photography is the perfect Surrealist medium - better than painting - because it promises that at least something is half real.
In a short exchange later, Trinh confirmed this lineage to me. I asked, "Why is the chance encounter important to you?" He replied: "Because it holds unlimited possibilities." So what is he looking for? "In a photographic image I'm looking for panache, rupture, revelation and curiosity." Trinh's approach to looking and photographing is free and quick, and he concludes that, "Play is the portal of creativity".
This approach to photography is a particular mode of looking. It's not like fashion photography or journalistic reportage. It is purposefully slippery and uncertain. The Surrealist photographs of Brassai had this quality. Later Henri Cartier Bresson, Elliott Erwitt and Robert Doisneau continued the approach. Daniel Arnold (who has been named the best photographer on Instagram by Gawker) is also a kindred spirit. Trinh recently caught up with Arnold in New York: "He's doing terrific work. He has a great strike rate, in almost any environment, and in my opinion capturing chance encounters better than anyone alive at the moment."
What Trinh, Arnold and other photographers of the chance encounter can teach us is, "Keep awake to the extraordinary in life!" They show that if you are open to it, by looking in a certain way, we will find things that can constantly shock and amaze, even on the walk to work or sitting at a bus stop.