Over-exposed, or perfectly developed?

So this afternoon I sat down in the dimness of my room, shades drawn after a nap (a rare indulgence), and prepared to extract the roll of film I had recently filled on my 35mm camera. I had just been looking at my friend’s newly launched website (she’s an art student: http://cargocollective.com/sophiehelf) and was feeling creative, nice, and inspired, and excited to develop this latest roll.

I knew it had been a good one. I spent the other morning after a run shooting shadows, silhouettes, and negative space during a perfectly foggy, enchanting, and ghostly morning along the bay. I crouched in the  mud, watching the mundane reflections of mud grass morph into intricate rorschach’s of pattern as I captured their light at just the right angle. It was quite enthralling. I spent a good hour at it. I had fun. It’s what I like to do.

So come time to open my camera and extract the film this afternoon, I had high expectations for the quality of these 36 prints to be. I was already picturing a few of them framed on my wall. Man, they would be awesome.

What happened next still haunts me.

I double checked my camera to see that I had indeed used up all the shots. I had. Then I lost control. Why I did it still escapes me. Internal self-sabotage? Camera gremlins? Post-nap grogginess? The world will never know. But whatever the case, I–God bless my soul– blithely popped open my camera. Without rewinding the film.

I uttered a very bad four-letter word.

My stomach imploded a little. My blood pressure rose. A stone of regret dropped out of my heart and into my butt. I had just ruined this exquisite roll of film with the click of one little button. Gone was my morning of hard work. Gone were the light tapestries of mudflat shadows in the fog. Gone was the creative promise of these prints.

And what added insult to injury, was that this was not the first time I had done this to what I knew–knew without a doubt– was an exceptional role of film. This was the third time. Was it the years of digital photography that prevented me from internalizing the basics of film? I have no idea and to dig for the cause is futile and probably an unhealthy exercise of energy that would be better used in other ways.

But seriously, how absolutely sucky.

I caught myself short. Ok, Cameron. So that happened. You’re not happy. You’re mad at yourself. You should have thought through that a little more. But what are you going to do about it now?

Like my insightful friend Claire told me once, “Wash your dramatic face and move on.”

Grudgingly, I decided to grow up and take this incident in stride. Yes, mourn the complete loss of this roll, and then take the lesson and keep taking pictures. That’s the point, isn’t it? To keep practicing your craft; to do your best today; turn your mistakes into victories of learning; count the experience as valid…well, experience. Say thank you and get over yourself.

Easier said than done. But the alternative is just to get pissy, throw a little fit, and forsake photography–or whatever you love– as being too hard, out of reach, and not worth your trouble. Then you avoid picking up another camera, pen, brush, soccer ball, boxing glove, etc., because it reminds you of what you are too afraid to admit to yourself: you still have a passion in you that you are smothering. Because you’re afraid to fail– or something equivalent, but as equally unacceptable. It’s hard to swallow. But you gotta stop making excuses.

Like my little brother– who is sometimes the most perfect fount of freakishly poignant wisdom I know– told me the other day: Life is like photography– you develop from the negatives.

As I often try to remind myself, it’s not what happens to you– not who you are, what your lot in life is, whether you or the people around you consider to be successful, unsuccessful, talented, untalented. It’s what you do with what’s set in front of you today, then tomorrow, then the next day. Soon, you are so absorbed in learning each lesson in front of you that you are enjoying the journey, and at some point you realize you’re living a life you can say you’re proud of.

Is this easy to do?


Is it worth it?


Why suck at life when it’s your choice whether you enjoy yourself or not?

Yes, I recognize that this feels impossible sometimes. The days come where we do not want to get out of bed and meet the fears of the day. We think we’re not good enough. We’re too young and inexperienced. We will fall short of expectations and reveal to the world that we’re not as amazing as they think we are. We think we’re just absolute failures and do not deserve the mercy of anyone.

Whoa. Stop the pity party. At times it seems to take a Goliath effort to break that pattern of thinking. But seriously, who said those things to you? You? Someone else? Why did you believe them?

Get up. Get out of bed. Load a new roll of film in your camera. And shoot. Those perfect shots are not going to go compose themselves. Let life’s lessons develop you today.

You’ve got stuff to do.

Remember, the magic’s always waiting to happen; you just gotta show up.
This photo always reminds me of that. I took it very unexpectedly. I thought I was just taking a cute shot of a curious bird. It turned into something far more scintillating.


4 thoughts on “Over-exposed, or perfectly developed?

  1. Oh Cameron, this was fantastic! A beautiful little anecdote, one that I have experienced more than a few times..

    Either way, I am glad to hear that you are shooting though! Reguardless of the the outcome, only progress can result :]

    • and it’s on the camera you gave me Willie!!!! I love it so much. seriously one of the best, most practical gifts ever. thanks for reading friend and i send you allll my best : ))) hugs,

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