Film Screw Ups
It’s the first of post of the month and I thought I would share some major photography screw-ups with you. I do this every once in a while for a couple of reasons. First of all to make all of you feel a bit better about your failings as an image maker. Second as a nice change of pace for all of the digital lies that we are all exposed to on the internet every second of every day. Third and most importantly it is freeing to me to be able to communicate freely and share complete failures publicly with no client to impress, nothing to prove, no axes to grind, and nothing to sell anybody.
Since it’s June I chose a group of screw ups that is one of the only things that causes me to point a camera in the direction of nature. I am not a landscape guy. I am not interested in the least. I don’t go camping. I don’t own a graduated ND filter. I don’t care. The exception is storms. I love storms. Especially storms on the water. I live on the east coast by the water right now and storms come at you with not much warning and they are scary. The also produce some amazing sights and feelings. Most of which are virtually impossible to photograph in any credible way that conveys even a remote sense of being there.
This storm happened a while ago and I noticed it on it’s way as soon as I fell out of bed, stumbled down to get my first cup of coffee and cleared my bleary eyes. This was one of those squalls that has massively thick low clouds that make it as dark as twilight with a few wholes scattered randomly that allowed blazingly bright sunlight to blast through in tiny narrow spots.
I grabbed one of my Hasselblad film bodies, my 150mm Zeiss Sonnar and my trusty old Seconic spot meter. The only film magazine that I had ready to go was loaded up with Kodak TMAX 100. I ran across the street and started to meter what looked like shadow and some of the blazing highlights in the clouds. The reading made absolutely no sense at all. After wasting a minute trying to figure out what was going on I discovered the Seconic had finally decided to take a vacation after 15 years of hard use. Turned out the little spot meter thing inside the meter is somehow loose and it’s impossible to tell what you are actually pointing the meter at.
Plan B. Guess exposure. In a way that actually reduced my stress a bit in that the light was shifting and changing so rapidly it unburdened me of trying to be precise in following it. Too bad I was way off and under exposed the film. I had no idea of this at the time as I was far too busy trying to follow the elements in the scene that were make or break. The streaks of light bouncing off the water moved with the clouds that where probably moving at around 40 MPH. The “S” patterns in the foam on the water were alternately dark or light or different every half second. Most importantly there were two idiots actually sailing in this preamble to the apocalypse. I could see the wall of rain and doom a couple of miles down the bay racing at me. I had less than 5 minutes before I was caught in the downpour.
In those few minutes I fired off 12 exposures but the shot never happened. The shot with the two sailors out there in one of those sunlit shafts. Not once did either of the active boats in full sail touch one of those pools let alone both. A lot of near misses. I saw shaft after shaft come flying by but never touching them. One boat with white sails and the other with dark sails - you can see it if you look way behind the other boat in this shot.
After escaping the deluge by a few seconds I knew that I did not have the shot I wanted but developed the film anyway. What the heck, it costs nothing and takes a few minutes. I screwed that up as well. I underdeveloped it because of my complete misconception of how bright it was in the first place. I then proceeded to forget to use a wetting agent after the wash. This is a big no-no for the hard water from hell that comes from my well. Hence the water spots you see. I wish I could tell you they were rain drops on the lens - they are not. Sounds much more romantic and understandable though doesn’t it?
So here they are in all their glory. Underexposed, under developed, hard water spotted scans that I didn’t even bother to blow the dust and hair off of. The icing on the cake is that I didn’t even get the shot that I was trying to get. The sunbeams and the sailors just did not want to cooperate. Would it matter if I got the exposure, development, and wash right? No. Would it matter if I tarted them all up in photoshop to simulate what I wanted? No. They are failures. I especially like them because of how utter and complete they are in their failure. At least I can be awed at the beauty of TMAX 100 in Pyrocat HD in few tiny areas of the film where I can envision what would have happened if I did everything right as well as those recalcitrant sailors and sunbeams would have cooperated just a bit.
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