Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Beauty of Accidents

Click any image for larger view.

Click any image for larger view.

MANY YEARS AGO, WHEN I WAS YOUNG AND FIRST FINDING MY WAY as an artist (or, at the very least, training my eyes to see), my college art professor said:
“Don’t be afraid of accidents! Learn to work with them, explore what they give you and learn from them.” I thought about that and began to see that an accidental drip of paint could become a good thing, or that the color I mixed by mistake just might be better than the color I had intended to make.

When you think about that, it’s a rule that should be learned by everyone. How many “accidents” in the science lab has resulted in new products? How many favorite foods have we enjoyed by a mistake in the kitchen? Or, how many times has a wrong turn led you to something wonderful?

And so it goes with art. The pictures above, of “photo mistakes” are from the collection of one of the most important collectors in snapshot photography today. Robert Jackson, whose incredible collection of snapshots was shown at the National Gallery of Art in 2007, shared these images with me because he is the kind of collector who is always searching for new meanings within the vernacular photography field. Robert’s book, The Art of the American Snapshot, can be found here on Amazon. It is a fabulous book to have in your library.

With photography today, you rarely see mistakes such as these. The reason for that is that the process has gradually been improving, so you don't have “in-camera” mistakes like lens flares, light leaks and processing errors anymore. Light sensitive emulsions occasionally go awry, especially with the instant photos like Polaroids. Of course, some of the mistakes in older “found photos” could come from fading colors or even damage from water or sunlight— but the point made is that occasionally mistakes can actually create a more interesting photo. Other mistakes can come from human error—like forgetting to advance the film (resulting in double or triple exposures), or accidentally having your finger in front of the lens.

So, enjoy these rare mistakes for what they are. Mistakes don’t necessarily make a photo great—they just add to the overall visual process of “seeing.”


Tattered and Lost said...

I can remember being in camera shops and seeing people go through their prints making two stacks: one to keep and one to toss. Then they'd argue with the shop owner believing they shouldn't have to pay for the "defective" ones. Sometimes they'd win, sometimes not. Either way, the shots were usually left on the counter in defiance or thrown in the trash. I wish I'd had the foresight to be forward enough to have grabbed them. I can remember looking over their shoulders and thinking "Whoa, those throwaways are much more interesting than that boring blurred close-up of a flower." Sometimes the most interesting shots I'd get would be out of the last few frames when I'd push the camera to get more than the regular 36 prints.

Hannah Stephenson said...

I absolutely loved this!

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