We need happy accidents. At the very least, we need that unsure, out-of-control result, to counter the hyper-controlled creative process -- which has been made even more so through digital technology. We need to be surprised, sometimes we need to not know the result in advance, and sometimes delayed gratification is the most gratifying. Anyone who has every processed their own film and made their own prints the old-school way -- in a darkroom, with chemicals and a meditative orange glow to set the mood -- knows the magic of seeing a print darken and become recognizable in shades of gray, white and black beneath the shimmer of chemical developer. It wasn't until the print had then gone through a stop bath and spent three minutes in fixer that one could take it out of the darkroom in a tray, squeegee it, and evaluate it for adjustments. It garnered anticipation (DID IT COME OUT???) a powerful emotion absent in the world of digital instant gratification.
After years of mastering technique and technology as a professional photographer, I wanted to cut loose and give up control. And that's when I fell in love with Holga. The Holga is a plastic camera, with a plastic lens, light leaks, a hand winder, and completely unpredictable results. I called it my magic camera, because the results always had some extra creative contribution by the low tech 'errors' inherent in the camera. Sometimes it meant unusable pictures, but many images were a lovely surprise - simply transcendent. Many photographers have enjoyed using the Holga, as they have the Diana, the Lomo, and other plastic-lens cameras. The Lomogrophy Society has fantastic options on all of these cameras, including stereo 3-d and pinhole Holgas. Some Holga images from my series, "Travels and Mysteries":
So it was with great interest I read the recent New York Times article, "Digital Tools for making Brilliant Mistakes" which spoke directly to my theory of the human need for the happy accident. The article started out with a description of the Digital Harinezumi, which I tweeted about after seeing it at last year's gift show. The images were enchanting, and the stills reminded me of my beloved Holga.
From the Times article: "The newer thing may seem less flawed or simply easier...traditionalists insist, but it sacrifices warmth, soul, depth, personality, chance and the human touch. They must have a point, because practically every antiquated creative process ends up inspiring some kind of digital filter, effect or add-on designed explicitly to mimic its singular properties. The upshot is a form of progress toward perfecting flaws."
These mistakes -- even if created by a series of algorithms in the case of a digital filter -- have a nostalgia attached to them by bringing us back to the days before we could control and modify results with such ease. They are a reminder that to err is human, and that human errors in the creative process are a part of making art that resonates beyond technique and pure representation.
So get out there and experiment -- hit the wrong button in Photoshop, make a few mistakes. You never know what will happen -- After all, as technology becomes more ubiquitous the human touch is even more important.