I feel like there have been a few too many Fridays that have fallen on the 13th of the month recently. In fact today is the 3rd time that Friday has fallen on the 13th day of the month in 2015. The last time there were 3 was in 2012, next year there will only be one.
Why has this conjunction of a number and a day, taken on such a significance in Western superstition?
The idea that the number 13 is unlucky can be traced back to Norse mythology, the story of 12 gods dining in Valhalla and in walks a 13th, uninvited guest, the mischievous Loki. Things go downhill from there. Baldur the Beautiful, the god of joy and gladness, is shot and killed with an arrow, and the earth goes dark in mourning. There are plenty of other references to 13 after that, 12 apostles present at the last supper, plus Judas, makes 13, etc.
I lived in an apartment building in Hong Kong a while back, more than 10 years ago now, and it lacked a 13th floor. The elevator buttons jumped from 12 to 14 and apparently this is not uncommon with more than 80 percent of high-rises lacking a 13th floor, according to Donald Dossey, a folklore historian and author of Holiday Folklore, Phobias and Fun.
The bad luck connotations of Friday also seem to have Judeo-Christian origins, the last supper was on a Thursday and Jesus was crucified on Friday.
Interestingly, in Spanish-speaking countries Tuesday the 13th, not Friday, is considered a day of bad luck. And in Italy it is Friday the 17th, and not the 13th, which is considered unlucky. Apparently.
What has this got to do with anything, other than the fact that today is Friday the 13th?
Thinking back to all the shots i have missed in my career as a photographer, every time i saw a great image out of the corner of my eye, or in the viewfinder, and failed to catch it either because i had not anticipated it, my reactions were too slow, my camera wasn’t ready or i just did not have a camera within reach, was it bad luck? Bad preparation? Fate?
Whatever it was it used to sting, really sting and i would kick myself and brood over it. But over time you understand that you can’t get every single image, you can’t win every time. Over time it is a number’s game and as long as you are getting that shot more often than you are missing it you are doing ok i think.
Here is a very recent example when i was standing in a rice field in Bali watching women carrying offerings to a temple one morning. I was shooting 6×6 film on my Hassleblad, 120 film so i had 12 frames in a magazine but had already shot a few, but i did not know how many at that stage.
The morning light was fantastic and several women were walking through the paddies with offerings on their heads. I saw one woman crossing my frame, i snapped the picture. Then another appeared, i snapped the frame, at the same time thinking to myself that a third woman would be an even better picture. And then another appeared making three women lined up perfectly. I wound the film on and squeezed the shutter button……nothing. My heart sank, I had run out of film.
Such a rookie mistake!
In the frame above you can actually see the 3rd woman entering the frame, something i did not notice. If i had seen her i might have held off pressing the shutter a few seconds.
Reloading the magazine would take too long, but luckily i had my Fuji x100s with me too and whipped that out. I had missed the shot i had seen through the ground glass of the Hassleblad, and that i had formed in my head, but i managed to make other good images, that made me forget about the one that got away.
Luck is definitely a factor in photography, but as Thomas Fuller said – “Care and diligence bring luck”. There are always going to be plenty more great images to be made so don’t dwell on the “missed” shot.