Chapter 1, Task 1
In Progress

Task 13 – Make mistakes and progress

Task 13

Make mistakes and progress

The Camera Cure Task 13

Seven years before I took this photo, I was working for Doctors Without Borders in Angola. After work I photographed and filmed. I took a photo of a boy in a swing in exactly the same position as the boy in this picture. But the picture was boring because the whole left side of it contained an empty playground. I hadn’t checked the entire frame and had been too involved with the boy on the swing. This annoyed me the entire seven years since. But in Mexico I got the opportunity to correct this mistake. Here I made sure to fill the edge of the photo on the left with something interesting, and the many triangles create a visual rhythm in the picture. How many triangles can you spot?
Oaxaca, Mexico, 2003. Photo: Torkil Færø


Seeing a mistake as a mistake

Right now I’m thinking about a talk I gave that was a failure. People were provoked by what I had to say. I was probably very opinionated and not very humble. I have a tendency towards being that way sometimes. After all, you have to simplify your ideas if you are going to talk about a many-sided topic in an hour. I am not an experienced speaker. Only a few years ago I had such a fear of speaking in public that I stayed far away from doing it, but now I think that what I have to say is so important that I have to dare to do it in front of others.

In order to be a good speaker, I have had to accept giving some bad talks. It is the bad talks that get me to think more carefully about how I do things so that I can improve. In a few years maybe I will end up being a really good speaker.

In school we got bad grades if we had too many errors. Therefore, we were afraid to make a mistake. The most effective way to avoid making an error is to avoid trying. Unfortunately, this is also the most effective method for not learning. Those who are not afraid to make mistakes, learn the most. They dare to face challenges where the chance for failing is big.

Being in the comfort zone is tempting but dangerous. We are sure to succeed there. Just standing still and recreating what we can already do might create some security, but if we are to move forward we have to move on and into the danger zone. It is uncomfortable there. We fail and stumble. But over time we get stronger and more resilient than those people who only cling to what is safe.

What could you have done if you didn’t allow the fear of failure to stop you?

What do you do that is so interesting and important for you that you could tolerate doing it badly?

On a scale of 1 to 6, how relevant is this issue for you?


Failing in order to improve

At the photography workshops I see many participants come back after a session walking stooped over and unhappy. They toss their cameras aside and moan. They say they haven’t managed to get anything. I tell them that frustration is a blessing. Frustration doesn’t stand in the way of creativity. It is the way to creativity.. In order to move forward, we have to first go through days and periods of feeling frustrated about mistakes we have made. Frustration is a symptom of you knowing you can do better, and that it is within reach.

We all think that it is disappointing to make mistakes. It is built inside of us. What we need to do is to see the value of the mistakes. In order to take more good pictures, you have to take a number of bad ones. So, pat yourself on the back after a day where you have managed to take one good picture. The other 99 pictures you took were necessary steps along the way. Even the best photographers have at one time been terrible, but they liked to take photos so much that they never gave up. The good mistakes come naturally through trying new and often more difficult tasks.

Anything worth doing is also worth doing badly. If you really like to write, continue on even if your first story is returned back to you from the publisher. The only real mistake is not to learn from the mistakes we make. The reason is often denial. However, in photography we are confronted with our mistakes when we see our pictures, and the irritation we feel over failed pictures gives us inspiration to improve at the next opportunity.

Photographers inevitably get accustomed to accepting mistakes. We experience that the way to taking better pictures is through learning from the mistakes we make. If we can trans- fer this to our private lives, then we have done ourselves a big favor. Life becomes easier by valuing our mistakes and missteps instead of only being annoyed by them.

Photo assignment:

Dare to take chances with something you haven’t done before.
A mistake can be a sign that you are on an exciting path and away from a safe one.

How useful was this task for you on a scale of 1 to 6?

BOOK SUGGESTION: Being Wrong by Kathryn Shulz.

There is only one thing that I really learn from – it is the resistance I get and the mistakes I make.

Erik Poppe

We failed all the way until we didn’t do it anymore.

Bruce Springsteen

Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.

Thomas Edison