Fail and Fail Again

If at first you don’t fail then you really owe it to yourself to try again. Fail people, please fail. There is nothing wonderful about ease, perfection,routine and the word that will ultimately destroy photography….convenience. Failing is like slamming your shin into that chair you moved right before you went to bed and right after you forgot you moved it. It sucks at the moment of impact, but it reminds you not to forget you can’t see in the dark. I fail all the time, and I routinely go out of my way to do things that ensure my failure. Like testing. I was recently given a camera, a plastic camera. I looked at it, opened up the box, figured out a way to customize it then promptly went outside and shot the images you see here, junk images rife with self portraits and odd little backyard landscapes, telltale signs of the all important test. In other words, crap.

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However, as it turned out, these are important crappy images because they don’t actually look like the kind of crap I was going for. If you like these images, that is okay too, but I don’t like them which ultimately is all that matters. The technique I THOUGHT was a slam dunk was in fact a complete air ball, but I didn’t know that so I tested. I do this on a regular basis and actually find it very entertaining. My office is littered with bad images, prints, books and odd tests. It is FROM these creative debacles that I often times find my visual promised land.

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14 Responses to “Fail and Fail Again”

  1. Martin says:

    Failure was an important aspect of testing in aerospace projects and software development. If a test plan hasn’t produced significant failures it is itself a failure. Of course, for a failure to be useful, it must be understood, or if not understood, documented. Some projects are so complex and expensive that they actually can’t be tested. The tokamak under construction in France or the Cern supercollider. From an engineering perspective see “The Logic of Failure” or “Rescuing Prometheus.”

    There is a difference, however, between technical failure and artistic failure, the latter being harder to understand. Indeed, what may have been perceived as a failure at first – the debut of ‘The Rite of Spring’ – may have been a revelation of new horizons. The quote, I believe, is from Beckett and goes something like “fail, fail again, fail better.”

    See also Merleau-Ponty’s “Cezanne’s Doubt.”

    Love your site.

    • Smogranch says:

      Thanks Martin,

      It’s odd how I’ll mess something up the years down the road will suddenly understand what it was and why it was important. Fail better, I like that.

  2. Sean says:

    Last night I found three ‘failures’ that I completely messed up. Such big failures infact that they turned out to be my favourite of the trip.

    I printed the fellas (and wrote a short blog post) and they look great. They also express exactly how I was feeling at the time I took them.

  3. Failures are interesting.

    Sometimes my failures are just crud. Nothing there. I ain’t all that, it turns out. Sometimes, though, a failure points the way. Not that, but maybe… this?

    The important thing, I think, is to fail in new ways. My most serious problem, and I think I am not alone, is in going back to the same tedious garbage that didn’t work last time, because it’s bad. I can’t leave the clouds alone, they look so cool! Also, I can’t find a new way to shoot them, so nothing is worth a damn.

    • Smogranch says:

      Andrew,
      I think that comes from people spending too much time looking around and not looking for what is in their heart and mind. Sounds corny, but left to one’s own inventions…it narrows the work considerable. Not a day goes by that I don’t dream of total disconnect and the beginnings of a great wander.

  4. mike a says:

    I think you have to fail in order to grow. I used to be upset with failure, now I realize that I can learn something from it. So cheers to my next failure.

  5. lionelB says:

    A week before the devastating mud-slide on Madeira I was up on that hill with my camera. The ground was clearly unstable and frankly frightening. I got the the point where the risks of going on had to be weighed against the risks of going back. I had ventured up there to see the waterfall, which was indeed a little vision of paradise. I got back feeling shaken and relieved but comforted by the thought that at least I had the images of that waterfall. When developed, there was only one image on the film, many times overlaid. I hadn’t inserted the film leader properly.

  6. patrick says:

    The tree shot has drama.

    Reading your post, I fished a couple of prints out of the bin that I’d just thrown there, failed experiments. On reflection, I thought, maybe worth another look? They’re back in the bin now.

    • Smogranch says:

      Patrick,
      I like my first image best, but not in any real way, just like the floating rectangle of light in the middle, but they all live in the landfill now.

  7. Martin says:

    Another post ok, I hope? Anyway, I’ve been shooting film exclusively for a year and a half. I just screwed up exposure some medium format with Velvia 100 on a Mamiya RZ. Not expensive, but annoying. It kind of hurt and made me question myself. One doesn’t shoot an RZ casually, at least not after 65.

    I also just borrowed a Leica M8 from a friend – kind of thinking about getting one. Of course, all my mistakes with it were free – just delete and try again. In almost no time, I found myself promiscuously click and chimping away, my hard earned shot discipline evaporating.

    So the point is, I guess, that failure has to hurt. It has to count for something.

    I like the M8 – it’s crappy LCD is actually plus. But I think I’ll wait Like the aperture priority, but feel vaguely guilty about using it.

    • Smogranch says:

      Martin,
      If you understand that these cameras are doing to you then you will be okay with it. I don’t know a single photographer who wasn’t changed by putting a digital camera in their hand. Digital provides immediacy, if you require that, but with it comes a bevy of pitfalls you should at least be aware of. Remember, time isn’t free. Chimping isn’t healthy and thoughtfulness can’t be stressed enough. But, use what you choose.

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