Brilliant Mistake / by Hugh Rawson


Since watching the Champions League Final I have been thinking a lot about making mistakes. For the uninterested football avoiders or those who have been dormant for whatever reason, Liverpool goalkeeper Loris Karius made two catastrophic errors which effectively cost his side the game and the trophy. Uninterested football avoiders please bear with me.


Goalkeeper has to be the most vulnerable position in football. Most mistakes are immediately punished.  And punishment is swift and harsh, particularly from your own fans. Football fans have long memories. An outfield player, on the other (ungloved) hand, is given more leeway. The tragedy of this situation is that for Karius this will almost certainly have been the biggest match in his career and he will probably be forever remembered for it. It will take some spectacular keeping in matches and seasons to come to change people’s memories.


Karius won’t agree with me right now, I’m sure, but I think mistakes can be brilliant. Aren’t they how you learn? Take riding a bike; your body’s muscle memory soon learns what to avoid if it wants to make skimmed knees and bleeding elbows things of the past. Take making a curry; too spicy and it’s unpalatable - you go easy next time. Travel overnight to that once in a lifetime sunrise without a battery for your camera - you check next time (and every time thereafter). It’s these mistakes that help you focus your skills into becoming a better cyclist, curry chef, photographer.... 


The important thing is that when things go wrong you look at why they went wrong and you go again. You get back on that bike. By doing that, you are making sure that you learn from that mistake.


The mistake becomes your best teacher.


Street photography is high paced with scenes opening and closing before you in the blink of a 1/500 shutter. You often don’t have time to think about what you have just shot, let alone check it in the viewfinder, before the next three scenes establish themselves in front of you. There is little time to learn as you go. The exception is the mistake that actually prevents you getting the shot. How often have you you switched the camera off then continued to shoot nothing? Forgotten to remove the lens cap for that best shot of the day? These things all happen to all of us and we shrug and move on, vowing never to make the same mistake again.


The time to learn from mistakes is very often later on - pausing for a coffee and checking back on the screen or when the images appear in the darkroom or computer monitor. That’s when you get a chance to critically review your work. Some mistakes you can correct with increasingly sophisticated software - under/over exposure probably being the key fixable error. Other mistakes you just have to make the best of or give up on but put right next time. If you are shooting a familiar place then you can probably make sure you position yourself better next time. If it was a one off situation, you just have to accept that your mistake will be burned into your memory and you will avoid making the same one next time.


It’s worth saying, at this point, that street photography is a very hard task master and is pretty unforgiving in its hit rate. Most of what I shoot is not for public consumption because it falls short of what I had envisaged and of what I would want anyone else to see. It is always disheartening to download a day’s worth of images and then sift the ones that are keepers. There are so few. Some are mediocre at best. The vast majority are immediately deleted.


Thankfully, we forget the ones we delete. It’s the select few that we go to work on - processing to a greater or lesser degree - and its these images that embed themselves in our memories and on our hard drives.


And just occasionally, a mistake turns out to be a hit. Regular readers/viewers of my work will know that I am drawn to windows for framing, for giving glimpses into interior worlds and sometimes for the reflections. The problem with shooting into windows is very often that what you see with your naked eye is different to what the camera sees. This can lead to disaster or a fortuitous happenstance, as in today’s picture. I was wanting a shot of the lady (btm right) and her friend (edited out to the left) but the reflections had other plans. I think it works. 


It’s good to keep learning - not just in photography but in all we do - and mistakes are an integral part of that. When we are afraid to try, for fear of failing, we will learn nothing. After all, penicillin was a happy accident - a brilliant mistake.