A little while ago now I shot a roll of Ektachrome E100 in a camera that turned out to be broken. The camera itself feels pretty irrelevant to this story, other than the fact that it was a manual focus SLR, it was broken and was quickly sent off for repair after I saw the results. What is more relevant is my reaction to the images verses my wife’s reaction when she happened to spot them on my computer. And then, more significantly, how my response changed to them after she commented so positively about them.
I must admit, I’m not one to embrace the idea of serendipity in my film photography all that often. As you’ll read in next week’s post, sometimes I take risks, but more often than not I like to feel like I’m in control of the outcome. That said, one of the big factors that makes film photography satisfying to me is finding out that I got it right takes a little more patience. That’s not to disparage digital at all, getting it right can be just as hard, but with film you have to wait longer to see if you got it right.
This wait has always been part of the joy for me. When I was a kid waiting the few days for my dad to bring home my envelope of prints was exciting. When they arrived and they were good, or at least not terrible, I was happy. When they came back and something had gone wrong, I was sad.
This mentality has followed me into adulthood. It’s taken me a lot of effort to appreciate cameras (such as the Lomo LC-Wide) that respond best to allowing large chunks of luck dictate the “quality” of the results. Of course, to a certain degree all point & shoot cameras – especially in an age when they are all fairly old – require the user to let go and trust the camera a bit. I certainly set my expectations slightly lower when shooting a point & shoot compared to when I’m shooting fairly high quality SLR camera for example.
In fact, when I’m shooting higher quality cameras, it would seem that I can sometimes set my expectations too high. That was certainly the case when shooting this particular high quality camera. My expectations were set to near-perfection. And actually, short of the fact that I’m still struggling to focus SLR cameras a little, I think my expectations were warranted. If you can see passed my missed focus and the massive light leaks, and look at the images and parts of images that did come out, you can see good qualities and exposure.
But, of course, most of them were largely ruined by the camera no longer being light tight! The camera had failed and I’d lost my precious photos… or at least that was my gut reaction when I first saw them. It wasn’t the end of the world, I’m not saying the images would have been particularly fantastic, but my disappointment that the camera had failed blinded me to any sense that the images themselves were anything other than a massive failure.
The Hannah factor
Ok, it’s no secret that some people love light leaks. You can even buy film that is pre-exposed in such a way to guarantee a light leak effect on every frame. In fact, there seems to be an unstoppable trend for this sort of thing at the moment – and more power to those who enjoy it, I say!
It’s not for me though. I don’t like leaving that much to chance, and when I see a lightly leak in my own photos I don’t thank the gods of film photography for the wonders of serendipity, I curse the broken camera, either bin it, or send it off for repair, and never let the photos see the light of day.
On this occasion though, they did see the light of day, or at least – as I said – my wife saw them. And what did she see…? Well, of course, she didn’t see a broken camera or even my missed focus, she saw pretty photos of her kids with random streaks of vivid red and orange… and she liked it.
I dismissed her at first, but as she got me to flick through them, cooing at how pretty they were, I stopped seeing the failure and started seeing what see was seeing, and I found myself liking it too! I was no longer seeing a broken camera, I too was seeing the aesthetic of the images and not the failures that created them.
I’m not sure what the moral of the story is here really, but I suspect there’s a couple of personal learnings for me around sometimes letting go a little more… Not least when it comes to my desire for control over things, but also perhaps that sometimes deviation from the expected outcome isn’t always a bad thing. As to whether or not I will pursue light-leaky photos in the future… well, I’m not sure I’m ready to let go that much, I certainly don’t regret sending this particular camera off for repair. Next time something like this happens though, I hope I won’t write the photos off quite so quickly and fervently.