Inspiration by Unexpected Error

Isis Solarized — Accidental turning on darkroom light when print was in developer — all photographs- Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

In my long career as a magazine photographer which I began in Vancouver in 1975 I did my best not to mess up my assignments. I knew that because of the big competition any error (and not coming back with a useable photograph for publication) would mean the end of further jobs for the magazine or newspaper.

This meant that I always took two of everything. I firmly believe in Patterson’s Law of Photography that states, “Murphy was an optimist.” If I needed one camera I took two. I had two of my favourite portrait lenses for my Mamiya RB-67 a 140mm floating element lens. Once while taking photographs of a very chubby Raymond Burr the main spring of the 140 failed after the Polaroid test. This meant I had to shoot the rest of my pictures with a 90mm which did not take kindly to his bulk.

But the fact is that in photography errors sometimes become discoveries of note. If one is able to determine where it went wrong (and produced an unexpected delightful variation) one can repeat the mistake.

Tanya — accidental double exposure- Mamiya RB -67 Pro-SD

The Mamiya RB-67 Pro SD has many devices that prevent an accidental double exposure. But also the camera permits one to double expose if one wants to. The double exposure here which I took with the Mamiya was purely acciedental. Somehow in spite of the double exposure prevention protocols I managed to find a way around it!

Anosh Irani

Some years ago I photographed for close to a year a lovely Japanese/Canadian woman. She would call me when she had some idea (always very good ones) for a session. One of them involved her shiatsu instructor. I took many pictures of the pair in what I was told were authentic shiatsu finger pressures. Because I was not only using my Mamiya but also a Nikon FM-2 loaded with Kodak B+W Infrared Film (it involves using a dark, deep red filter, and focusing at the infra red mark on the lens) I was too busy to note that my camera was crooked within the large ring-flash I was using. My subject was much too polite to tell me of the mishap thinking that I knew what I was doing.


When I saw the results I was immediately perplexed and then pleasantly surprised. The crooked lens had “read” the edge of the ring flash. That particular trick is one of many up my sleeve when I want to suggest the idea of avant-garde in a shot. There is a much better shot than the one that I have placed last so that the folks of social media might not note it and complain This one is perhaps less so. You can spot the ring at the bottom right.

The most important lesson for me is that in-between jobs (when I got them in those halcyon days of the past century) you had to experiment and test equipment and new methods.


Link to: Inspiration by Unexpected Error

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