Digital Errors and Happy Mistakes

Wind Farm, Ben Dolman 2013 [fig 1]

Taking and making photographs I make mistakes all the time especially with film photography and this happens quite often as I learn and use a large format cameras and  develop the colour negative film myself, there are quite a few stages in the process where things can go wrong. In film photography happy mistakes are quite common but in digital photography this rarely happens, there is an image or not, a corrupt file rarely yields anything of interest.

The other day I was in the Fens near Sutton Bridge photographing a wind farm that is under construction and I was using a Hasselblad digital medium format camera in very windy conditions. Sometimes during the mounting of the large heavy lens onto the camera body and also when moving the camera the contacts between the lens and the camera body were not fully connected with one another and usually this just results in a blank image and all you have to do is release the lens and remount it, restart the camera and you are back in business. This time the error produced interesting results, something I would not attempt to do again on purpose, the Hasselblad is a very expensive camera and so I see these photographs [fig 1 and 2] as one offs, digital mutations, a chanced altered capture of the actual.

Wind Farm, Ben Dolman 2013 [fig 2]

What is interesting in these photographs from the Hasselblad is the data error has not only change the colours but the way it reveals how the image is scanned onto the sensor. The linear lines and blocked out areas suited the subject, the flat lands of the fens reflecting the demarcation of the fields, roads and drainage system bisecting the landscape creating linear structures and patterns. The malfunction abstracted the subject, translating it into a geometrical pattern whist still offering a glimpse of the original subject. The only other time I had seen this effect is when people convert a desk top A4 scanner and fix it to the back of a large format camera as seen in the work of Michael Golembewski or use a magnified glass attached to home made cardboard bellows that is fixed  directly onto the scanner as seen here at Another example of a linear breakdown of an image is video, the video capture I refer to is interlaced with the image captured in upper and lower fields, the interlaced lines of video footage can sometimes be very pronounced and to remove them from the video you would have to be convert the video into a single field or de-interlaced it. In the past interlaced video was a pain and editors used a range of different techniques to remove it, now it has become an effect, a filter that people apply to progressive capture video to make it look like a low quality TV image, funny world, as soon as we find perfection we seek to mar it and call it art.

The type of image produced from a corrupt digital file to that of a negative film is very different as seen in the image below [fig 3]. In film photography the grain takes on an added dimension when scanned as the scanner tries to convert an over-exposed colour negative and the resulting image has a strange incandescence, the light seems to radiate, the tones and hues solarised. The effect is rather painterly which I would normally steer away from preferring the matter of factness which photography can offer in ‘the straight photograph’ but this time perhaps in a moment of weakness I grew fond of the resulting image, the error suited the subject.

Pylons, trees and golf, Ben Dolman 2013 [fig 3]

The double exposure in image [fig 4] is made when the film is incorrectly winded forward and multiply exposures are made on the same section of the film but sometimes it can yield interesting pictorial compositions. These superimposed images can confound our perception of the ‘real’ and gain an added dimension through repetition and displacement of ‘things’ resulting in a double check of what we perceive as real. It seems to work best for me in the panoramic, a linear format that usually makes our eyes to pan across the picture plane and the echoes from the double exposure cause visual disruptions and tensions. After this mistake I have continued to explore making images through incorrect forward winding of the film in a 17 x 6 cm film back on a 4x5 camera which gives you precise control how images over lap, sometimes the resulting image works and at other times not, there is an element of chance through experimentation.

Storage Tank, Ben Dolman 2012 [fig 4]

The digital darkroom allows for mistakes to be made on purpose and for effect and this effect can be repeated again and again, when done in camera it is usually a one off event that when you try and do it again it rarely yields the same results. Images manipulated in programmes like PhotoShop and online using adjustment tools in sites like Instagram are OK and have produced some very interesting work, a quick and simple effect but for me nothing beats the accidental be it be in camera or in the chemical processing of film. What programmes like PhotoShop offer me is the opportunity to experiment with ideas and to visualise them as in [fig 5], in this picture I wanted to see what a image of the River Soar would look like projected onto a building that was being dismantled.

The River, Ben Dolman 2012 [fig 5]