Making Mistakes Look Good.

In my last post I talked about the iPhone camera being another tool that a photographer can use in the process of creating artwork.  I argued that creating art isn’t so much about the hardware and software but more about how we use the tools that are available to us to recreate vision.

While on my lunch break the other day I called in at my local book store to browse the magazines in the photography section.  In one of the more contemporary magazines there was an article entitled “Hipstamatic Makes Mistakes Look Damn Good”.  Hipstamatic is one of the photography apps that I use on my iPhone.  I have been shouting from the rooftops lately about how liberating the iPhone is and how it is an excellent tool to help me recreate my vision. Against my better judgement I read the article, albeit with one eyebrow raised….

I take great care in executing my photography.  I try hard to create compositions that are simple, correctly exposed and focused.  I try to use light, shape, form, texture, line, etc. etc. to add emphasis to the subject and atmosphere to the scene.  I do all of these things to help each image tell the story that I want it to tell.  However, based on the title of the article, apparently I need not try so hard.  I can allow myself to make mistakes and the images will still look good.  Better still, even if I didn’t know that I had made a mistake there is a damn good possibility that my images will still look good.  This magical software will somehow cleverly hide such mistakes.

“What utter nonsense”, I said quietly to myself.  I then thought, “I don’t care what tool you use, a mistake is a mistake and a bad photograph is a bad photograph”.  This thought stayed with me for the rest of the day and so that evening I decided to poll an iphoneography group on Facebook that I am luckily a member of.  The responses made me think about this in quite a different way.  The following is a selection of what others had to say:

“It is easy to say it is the tools we use that makes us fantastic, wonderful, terrific, photographers. However it is how we use those tools with our eyes and heart that make us creative and able to take advantage of the mistakes we continually learn from.”

“And my $2,400 Taylor guitar makes me sound good too. It’s amazing how good my mistakes sound. Tongue firmly implanted in cheek”

“I have seen plenty of photos made with a $25 toy camera that look a whole lot better than the stuff I churn out with my camera gear that I would hate to put a value on, but it’s probably right up there with the national debt of a small Caribbean island……”

“A heavy weight was lifted off me when I gave myself permission to embrace my photographs as art! Of course they always were. Sadly though, since I was surrounded by the expectation of journalist images, it took some time to allow such creativity.”

“Very interesting thought, that we have to give ourselves “permission” to embrace our photography as art. As children we didn’t ask anyone for permission for our scribbling or random brush strokes to be accepted for anything. Somewhere along the way into adulthood it would seem that we get brainwashed into believing that we have to ask for such permission or acceptance. Imagine how creative we could be if we weren’t burdened with the idea that we might need to ask anyone (including ourselves) for such permission, especially if what we are doing is not in the mainstream. Why are folks (such as the editor of that article) reluctant to allow each and everyone of us to pursue our art without boundaries, irrespective of whether we take photographs with an iPhone or a $20,000 digital Hasselblad……”

“I once heard that if you are in a classroom of 1st graders and you ask, “Who can draw, paint and sing.” All their hands will go up. However if you go into a classroom of 7th graders and ask the same question, few if any hands go up. Of course all the 7th graders can draw, paint and sing, but sadly somewhere along the way they began to need “permission.”

“My brother was told by his elementary music teacher he could not sing. It took till he was in his 50’s to believe and then give himself permission to sing at Church. My mom was so angry with that teacher because he actually CAN sing!”

“I have learned, as a rule of thumb, never to ask whether you can do something. Say, instead, that you are doing it. Then fasten your seat belt. The most remarkable things follow.”

In reading the responses I realized that the discussion brought up another equally important question: whose place is to say that a mistake has been made and that an attempt has been made to cover up the bad photograph with some magical piece of software?  Just because a photograph doesn’t appeal to us or contains (in our mind) a mistake, aren’t we simply discounting what the maker considered to be his or her vision of the scene that was laid out in front of them?  Clearly we are all entitled to our opinions, but shouldn’t we at least accept what we consider to be mistakes, even if we don’t agree with them?  After all, as one person stated “…..fasten your seat belt…. the most remarkable things follow…”.

Here are some more “mistakes” that I have tried to cover up using the Hipstamatic app on my iPhone.  These were taken at the Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore.

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