Failure is the Best Teacher

Failure is the Best Teacher

The skeleton photographed below was once a beautiful model. But after I set the bulky 4- x 5-inch camera on a tripod, calculated the exposure on the film plane via the inverse square law, hand metered the model, stuck my head under the dark cloth 50 times to check composition, metered the model again……well, by then she had no pulse.

Nevertheless, I persevered.   I shot and shot again. Shoot, develop. Shoot develop. Many failures, much learning. That’s the thing with film. You figure things out the hard way, and it sticks – the technical and the aesthetic. The darkroom is, I suppose, like all art a combination of alchemy and artistry. The view camera is teaching me patience, to overcome self-doubt and keep going.

Yes, while the technological world of pixels moves forward at lightning speed, I am going backwards. I thought, after decades of shooting people and portraits on film, I would just do the same with the view camera. But the learning curve is slow, the mistakes many. It’s a painful, slow process.  But the slowness becomes a meditation.  In the end, I have a deeper understanding of technical processes and of my own human shortcomings.

I left high school wanting to be a surgeon. I always liked working with my hands. But our family physician – who made house calls in those days – said you don’t become a good doctor until one of your patients dies. He said I was sensitive and would fall apart when my first patient died. Good thing I’m just a photographer. Because at the moment my darkroom morgue – the garbage pail – is full of 4- by 5-inch bodies.

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