The Value of Failure

When I was younger, I was fascinated by the work that went on in my father’s darkroom.  He was an avid photographer, and shot weddings, and some commercial work in engineering workshops.  I would go with him sometimes, on these outings, and carry gear.  Sometimes I’d get to do exciting things in the workshops – like driving the overhead cranes and watching steel plate being rolled.   I think that the health and safety people would be wringing their hands in despair nowadays.

I would watch in fascination later, as images miraculously appeared on sheets of paper in developing fluid – I spent my childhood surrounded by bottles of developer, fixer, film canisters, and rolls of drying film (pegged up in the bathroom)………

Funnily enough, I hated the entire process – the smells were horrible – sitting in a dark room (maybe with a red light for company) – no ventilation (well we were sat in what amounted to a large cupboard, converted for the process).  It was hot, sweaty and uncomfortable.  It was the image making – the appearance of the darks and lights on the paper that was the fascinating part.

Later on, even in the digital era – I had to relearn how to process both film and pictures at college.  It slowed me down, but I still didn’t like the smells…….

What film taught me, was how to be patient, and how to slow down, and how to work towards a goal that may never be fully achieved.

I’m constantly looking for that one picture, the one image that will set me aside from everyone else, that will allow me to be ‘discovered’ – so as film processing has influenced my photographic journey, so digital processing has allowed me to make more mistakes, faster than ever…….

Even those who make mistakes, and fall flat on their face, are at least moving forward.  It’s productive in photography to experiment, to try different media, and be willing to fail. I would go so far as to say that the most fascinating photographers I have met, have all been experimenters, and have all failed at something.

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The photographers who are the least interesting, in my head, are the ones who are doing exactly the same thing they were doing 10 years ago.  They are the ones who are least willing to fail, the ones least willing to experiment.  The ones least willing to stray outside their comfort zone.  It’s a great idea to introduce randomness in your life.

A photographer said to me recently – “It’s great working with you, you have so many zany creative ideas” – which was lovely to hear, as it means I’m moving forwards, and not backwards, or worse, standing still.

The thing is….. it doesn’t matter if I fail… it really doesn’t matter if the experiment, the idea, the trial, doesn’t work – what have I lost?  I’ve probably gained some different ideas, maybe even worked out what I can do to make the next shoot successful.  Maybe it didn’t work THIS time, but maybe it will work next time.

Go out in the wrong weather, with the wrong gear, the wrong location, the wrong mood.  It will introduce randomness into your life, encourages discovery – takes it outside your comfort zone.

The idea of failure should push us forward as photographers. Failure can lead us to success as photographers and we (deep down) know that it’s true.

The image below, has been a successful one for me – it was an accident.  I’d seen similar images and with some research worked out pretty much how they were done.  Following the idea through, resulted in this image.  It’s won a number of competitions, and involved me in a lot of conversations about ‘how it was done’ (and if you want to know how it was done – just drop me a line – it’s a bit long to ramble on about here).

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Introduce some randomness into your creative process – it will increase the number of ‘failures’ but, if we pay attention to them, we will find more potential that would normally come our way.

Author: Diane Seddon ARPS AFIAP CPAGB BPE3* - D Seddon Photography

I am a retired freelance photographer, based in Louth, Lincolnshire.

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