Billy Duffy - A MinnowSaturday, January 25, 2014
Most people might be aware that Robert Capa’s (Magnum Photographer) photographs of the allied landing on D-Day are his most famous in his long and storied career. Few might know that these images are striking particularly since the lab that processed the Capa’s negatives made some mistakes in the processing.
Sometime in the mid 80s I came up with the idea of writing a book which would have been called 1001 Photographic Mistakes & How to Avoid Them. I shelved my project when I realized that I was inventing new ones every week.
The fact is that many of the best known images of the photographers of the 20th century came about because of failures of equipment, processing or photographers not doing things carefully. In fact there is uncorroborated story that tells that a frustrated Lois Daguerre experimenting one day with his yet unperfected technique went home on a cloudy day (not enough light for his low sensitive plates) and threw his stuff into a closet in disgust. It seems that a mercury thermometer in the closet broke and the rest, of course is history. The Daguerreotype became the first successful photographic process and the mercury used to develop the exposed plates caused a big increase of bald men.
Many Ray’s famous solarized prints began with the turning of the lights in a darkroom when prints were in the developer tray. The turning of the lights was a sheer accident.
Many other wonderful photographs happened when photographer deliberately went against the grain of, “You cannot…”, or “Don’t…”
For most of my magazine and commercial photography career I have attempted to avoid mistakes and equipment failure. Of the latter I have spent a fortune having duplicate equipment, just in case. But in my invention on finding new ways of making mistakes I have always followed the one basic rule of magazine photography. This is that your picture (and only one is really needed) must be useable and not necessarily. The big fish cannot get away in magazine photography. It suffices to show up with one minnow.
I cut it very close (there is only one useable image) when I had to photograph guitarist Billy Duffy of The Cult.
While processing the roll of 120 film in a revolving tank I decided to take a leak. This I did so momentarily so left the tank revolving on its electric base. When I returned I noticed with horror that the tank had fallen off. This meant that the developer that swirled around the negative did not swirl. You can see from the two scans of the negatives how the lack of swirl produced a sine-wave-like separation and on one side the negative is properly processed and in the other it is under developed. But you might note that the exposure on bottom left of the first contact is fine. I passed the test of the minnow and the Vancouver Magazine art director, Chris Dahl never found out how close he was to not getting anything.
This time around as I scanned the one good negative I have noticed fixer stains (caused by improper washing). I will re fix this negative and wash it thoroughly, after all it is the minnow that I caught and all those other big fish got away.