How to Fail and Not Totally Lose Your Mind.  / by Simeon Smith

Last night, after two epic darkroom fails (literally, entirely black prints) I started writing an article about experimentation, how it bloody well sucks, but how without it we’d never learn skills. It wasn’t very positive. So here’s attempt 2.0:

  Experimenting with vaseline smeared on a lens filter.

Experimenting with vaseline smeared on a lens filter.

I have a process for film photography. It works. 

I bulk load Fomapan 400 into my Leica IIIa’s,  shoot using the light meter on my phone, or just by guessing exposure, develop in Ilfosol 3 for 8 minutes, skip stop-bath, fix with Rapid Fixer, and take the negatives down to the local lab for scanning. 

That’s my process. 90% of the photos you’ve seen of mine on social media or this website were taken this way. A lot of experimentation got me to this process, and it hasn’t really changed.

But I’ll never learn. I love to experiment. Sometimes I get great results from my experiments, like when I bought an old TLR without really knowing what it was and it turned out to be a landscape beast. Sometimes my experiments fail miserably, like last night in the darkroom. 

You might think that experimentation is just about messing around, but since yesterday evening I’ve been thinking about the right and wrong ways to mess around. 

  Experimenting with double exposures.

Experimenting with double exposures.

Sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something. - Jake the Dog

Chances are the first time you try something out, it’s going to suck. But keep going, try things out a few times, and learn from people around you. Ask lots of questions, try to act on the answers. Google stuff. 

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. - Albert Einstein

Sometimes, you need to adapt your processes, sometimes you need to get help and find other ways of doing things. Sometimes you just need to cut your losses and admit defeat. There are cameras and processes I love the idea of, but they just don’t fit with my way of shooting. I loved the idea of the La Sardina camera when Lomography launched it, but it just didn’t give me the results I wanted. It didn’t stop me from returning to that same camera time and time again to learn the same lesson again and again. 

Remember, kids, the only difference between screwing around and science is writing it down. - Mythbusters

Share. The internet is an amazing tool for accessing the entire wisdom of humanity… provided they’ve uploaded it. That (along with shameless self-promotion and rambling rants) is what this blog is all about. You don’t have to write a blog, but if you overcome a significant hurdle, tell people about it! You’d be amazed at the number of times I’ve searched “How do I get this to work?!” only to find an old forum post from someone who solved the issue! 

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us. - Martin McLuhan

Sometimes you might want to experiment, but you might not want to spend a fucktonne of cash on the experiment, but know that sometimes your experiments might fail because you’re not using the right tool. For years I thought the walls of my house were impenetrable, until I used a friend’s posh drill and drill bits. It’s the same with cameras. I thought medium-format film was overhyped until I tried a nice TLR. Do your homework and spend your cash wisely! The old, “buy cheap, buy twice” doesn’t always hold true; there’s good gear that’s cheap, and rubbish gear that costs the earth, but with the internet on your side there’s rarely an excuse to buy rubbish gear. 

To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. -Thich Nhat Hanh

Be kind to yourself. Some experiments will fail, others will have amazing results. Remember and celebrate your successes, and don’t beat yourself up about failures, just learn and move on.