Serendipity is a word that crops up a lot in conversation with the British photographer Max Milligan. Good fortune and coincidence, it seems, have been the watchwords of both his life and his work. We are talking about the publication of his fourth book of photographs, The Lebanon – a work that he describes, inevitably, as "very serendipitous".
It's certainly heavy – 10.1lb, according to my bathroom scales – and carries a hefty (undiscounted) price tag of £80. But then again it's not so much a book to be stashed on a shelf, as a beautifully bound work of art containing nearly 300 sumptuous colour plates of the Middle East's most complex and misunderstood country. It is, he says, his "vision as an outsider and artist".
Its genesis was indeed serendipitous. In 2005, Milligan, who is 45, attended a charity dinner in Ghana, the subject of his previous book of photographs. He was amazed to discover that the Lebanese woman he was seated next to was the mother of an old school friend with whom he had lost touch, Charles Chedrawi. They had been at Millfield School in Somerset together a quarter-century before, sharing dormitory japes and tents on Dartmoor.
Once the friendship was re-established, Chedrawi urged Milligan to make Lebanon – a country the photographer had never visited and knew little about – the subject of his next project. In return, Chedrawi would finance the research and publication of the book.