A few months back, I wrote an article here about how I met some camels while on a desert shoot. They appeared out of nowhere, cresting over a dune some ways away, just as I found myself at the end of a roll of T-MAX 100. I went about opening the camera, but in my blind rush to get a new roll in, I forgot a key part of changing film: actually rewinding it.
Seeing the exposed film, I immediately refitted the baseplate. My only thought for the rest of the day was how I had just ruined a perfect roll. This came during a period in which I was very unhappy with my photography. It was mid-June 2020, quarantine was getting to me, and I was unsatisfied with everything that came out of the developing tank. I was questioning if film photography was worth it, if the costs were justified, why I couldn’t get with the programme and sell all my analogue gear…and this roll helped remind me why.
Soon after I was back in the darkroom, dreading the results of the ruined roll. What came out of my tank, however, was a roll of photographs, traditionally ‘unusable’, but with an abstract twist that I couldn’t have possibly planned for. In fact, I was even expecting to get frames that were either completely blown out or flared into oblivion. Maybe my exceedingly-low expectations are what made me feel pleasantly surprised by the results.
Was this the ideal outcome? Not even close. However, it helped jar me; with film, I have found that there is a certain element of surprise, and a quality of ‘making do’. Through trial and error, you learn to expose and develop. You work towards giving yourself the optimal results to put through the enlarger. And when you make a mistake (this WILL happen), you need to accept and work with it. I had forgotten this aspect of photography, and I needed to embrace it. And so the medium intervenes in the final product, and my desert landscapes are now abstract pieces. That’s all there is to it.
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Since then, I have happily avoided prematurely opening my camera; while purposeful lightleaks could make for an interesting project at some point, I think I’ll stick to what I can control for now. Thanks for reading!
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