Richard Holman on the value of the unexpected moment

Wrong turns and unpredictable moments are a part of every creative journey, yet we rarely like to examine these in full, preferring to give the impression that everything is in our control. But, writes Richard Holman, these accidents are vital

Few of us would admit to being without a clear sense of direction. The imperative to know where you’re heading professionally begins early on. When I was an intern – which was so long ago the term ‘intern’ was yet to be coined – a kindly and long-in-the-tooth creative director took me aside and asked me about my five-year plan. Five-year plan? I could see just about as far as the weekend, and even that was kind of hazy. Embarrassed, I hesitated, mumbled something incoherent, and asked if he’d like another cup of coffee. 

Once all those lunch runs and late nights working for a pittance paid off and I landed a job as a creative, the pressure to plan became even more intense. Every shoot required a shot list, a storyboard, and a pre-production meeting. I was taught to anticipate, to mitigate the unexpected, to drill accident out of the creative process.

This desire to know where you’re heading is understandable, especially when there are risk-averse clients around, but does it come at a creative cost? The photographer Dorothea Lange, renowned for her work in the dust bowl of America during the 1930s, especially her photograph Migrant Mother, once said: “To know ahead of time what you are looking for means you’re then only photographing your own preconceptions, which is very limiting and often false.”