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.

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!

~ Simon

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About the author

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Simón Ducos

Simón is a photographer based in the U.A.E., although he is currently travelling and working on personal projects. He began using film in 2017.

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  1. I thought I was the only person who made this error. I mean, I’ve got 50+ years of doing this! Worse than that, I made it like you did, with my Leica. I blamed it on Covid and the long lockdown that temporarily robbed me of my camera muscle memory.
    But, again, like you experienced, the photo gods took pity on me and I only lost a few frames.

    Your third shot is great: all about tone, shape and shadow. The fourth shot of the tree looks like you’ve got theater spots beaming own on the landscape. Like a DADA scene.

    Stay healthy & safe!

    1. Thanks, Etienne! I’ve been photographing this tree for the better part of a year and this is probably my favourite from the collection.

  2. Here you’ve really nailed much of the point with analog photography.That touch of unpredictability that makes each frame a surprise, and unique. I think most of us film shooters go through some periods of doubt, even usanalog Leica lovers… (“Shouldn’t I rather get myself a M9?”). But then we see wonderful images like yours, and again feel that as long as tehre’s film to be bought, we’ll stick to it.

  3. What is that old saying “when life hands you lemons, you should make lemonade?” You certainly made some sweet lemonade. Really nice photos, perhaps not as planned, but very interesting indeed.

    1. Thank you Ken! More often than not, I find that the less things go according to plan, the more interesting the results.

  4. The only error worse than opening the camera before rewinding the film is to prematurely pat yourself on the back for being so good at loading the film that you get to frame 38, then 40, then oh crap!

    I can still see the images in my mind that I captured with my empty camera in 1982.

    You caught some luck here, being able to salvage these images. Thanks for sharing.

    1. The lost photos are the ones I remember the best, which almost lets me enjoy them more. Film really does help me stay in the moment, in that sense. Thanks for reading!