As children, many of us likely had at least one moment of serial stupidity that caused a parent or teacher to wag their finger and dutifully mutter the platitude, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Although the intent of this statement has always been perfectly obvious, I still couldn’t help but wonder, “so how many wrongs does it take?”
Sadly, no one’s ever actually answered this question. Nor, surprisingly, has anyone shown the slightest appreciation at having been asked. Maybe this is why I never outgrew my propensity for doing so many things wrong — perhaps I’m continuing to search for that elusive answer.
Recently, I had a particularly generous spate of wrongs contribute to the photograph shown above. Allow me to enumerate them, should you wish to duplicate these results for yourself:
1. Load a camera with film when you actually have no idea what you plan to shoot or when you plan to shoot it.
2. Neglect to make note of the manufacturer, type and ISO speed of the film you loaded.
3. Sit the camera on a shelf. Allow one year to pass, then make a wild guess at what’s inside. Assume something like, say, Kodak 400NC color negative film, and enter this into the iPhone app that you’re now wisely using to track which film is in which camera. This way, you’ll remember to always expose it at ISO 400.
4. Let the camera sit on the shelf for another 2 years, thus guaranteeing that whatever film resides within has well and truly exceeded its expiration date.
5. Make sure you’re good and woozy with a particularly obnoxious head cold, then choose the rainiest possible day to finally take the camera out for a walk — this will insure that you have neither the energy nor the inclination to care about how messy and horrible your compositions might be.
6. Since this is a dreadfully dreary day, and since the long-neglected camera just so happens to be a pinhole camera, long exposure times will be necessary. So go ahead and calculate reciprocity values for 400NC film — even if you’re not really certain that’s what’s inside.
7. Happen upon a pair of abandoned sunglasses, and erroneously assume that the juxtaposition between those sunglasses and the inclement weather will actually register on a fuzzy, wide angle pinhole shot.
8. Meter the scene. Start the timer on the iPhone, then open the shutter on the camera. At the end of the 90 second exposure, turn off the alarm on the iPhone, but forget to close the camera’s shutter.
9. Pick up the camera and start moving it around, even though the shutter is still open and the film is still being exposed.
10. Recognize your error, close the shutter and advance to the next frame — only to have the film jam.
11. Take off your raincoat and wrap it tightly around your forearm and the camera, fumbling beneath the damp and constricting nylon to unscrew the camera’s back and fiddle with the film transport — most assuredly fogging the film in the process.
12. Consider retaking the photo, only to notice upon closer inspection that the glasses aren’t actually sunglasses, but 3D TV viewing glasses.
13. Walk around in the driving rain to finish the roll, then extract it from the camera to find you’ve actually been shooting Ilford FP4+ ISO 125 B+W film and not Kodak 400NC ISO 400 color film. Shrug it off and hope that your now erroneous reciprocity calculations compensate for (rather than compound) your exposure errors.
14. While still wearing wet clothes (courtesy of your mid-downpour jacket removal), pop the film and tank into the changing bag, where your wet hands and sleeves cause the film to stick to your fingers, making you screw up loading the reel… many, many times over.
15. Develop with a solution of Rodinal that’s so old it’s now indistinguishable from industrial-grade maple syrup.
16. Reach for the fixer, only to remember at this precise moment what it was you forgot to buy while you were in the camera shop last week. Resort to using the last bit from an old jug that expired 7 months ago.
17. Wash film, then drop it on the shower floor when hanging it to dry. Re-wash film.
18. After film dries, drop it on the floor under your chair, then roll over it (twice) in your haste to pick it up before the “3 second rule” causes it to collect any dust.
In the end, I somehow wound up with a shot that I sort of like. Maybe it’s precisely because of the jumbled composition, the strange fogging, the eccentric exposure and the dubious development. Maybe it’s because of the scratched and dusty scan or the obtuse observations of a fevered mind. Or maybe it’s simply because, by all rights, it’s a photo that shouldn’t even exist. Most likely it’s all these things. So apparently the answer to the question, “how many wrongs make a right?” is “18.” Unless, of course, it was wrong of me to post this photo.
ABOUT THIS PHOTO: “Shades” was shot with a Vermeer 6×6 pinhole camera on FP4+ and developed in Rodinal 1:50. I suspect neither Czarey Bartczak (who makes the Vermeer camera), nor Ilford (who makes FP4+) nor Blazes Photographic (who makes my Rodinal solution) will be contacting me to use this photo in any of their advertisements. C’est La Vie.
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