And furthermore ...

One Man's Treasure encourages the use of anonymous photographs posted here to illustrate books and album covers.
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Sunday, 17 July 2011


Bad photographs

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.”
James Joyce

Perfection is a pain in the arse. People expect it from you, you try but come up short and in the scheme of things you haven’t done well, you have failed. Perfectionism in some people’s eyes isn’t about delivering the goods but doing it in a certain way, no matter how illogical or contrary to your nature the results are. Sometimes perfectionism is also a lot easier than making mistakes.

It is easy for example to take a perfect photo. Follow a couple of basic rules such as keeping the sun behind you and placing the object of focus in the centre. Set the exposure – if your camera has a light meter it will do that for you – and adjust focus. Press the shutter. According to every manual ever published you now have a perfect photo. It wasn’t difficult. Now, try taking one of the photos in this post, the one above for example. How did the photographer get that odd in the top half? I have no idea but I know this; he or she created a singular and unrepeatable image. Given the challenge of replicating the effect, most professionals would resort to cheap tricks or give up.

Mistakes in photos can be wonderful things. They liberate the image and make it completely new. I was discussing this with a couple of colleagues recently and it occurred to me, later on, that we train ourselves to remove errors so a photograph that doesn’t come out exactly as intended becomes a failure. Mistakes can however be a path to discovery. They suggest we stop seeing the photographic image as a formal representation or evidence and take it as an object on its own terms. The strange patterns of light or poor focusing that theoretically destroy an image turn it into something else. Perception is a part of experience so anything that broadens one does it to the other.

Searching through the archive for mistakes you realize that a lot of snapshots are flawed; the composition is askew, the shutter speed a trifle slow, the usual mistakes. These photos take the mistake and turn the photograph into something else. As a social worker might say; they’re not bad, they’re different.


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