When failed photographs won’t fade away…

by bjmuirhead

Every artist has  work which isn’t quite good enough, and like most who work with photography, I have a large number of images which hover between being truly awful and acceptable, possibly exhibitable images. Usually I put them in the reject folder and forget them, but all of us have images we can’t get out of our mind even though they’re not good enough.

Sometimes, but not often, these images can be turned into working images of which we can be proud; they just needed a re-visioning, a different treatment.

The ongoing development of photo manipulation programs makes this possible  and puts photographers in a position where we can almost think of our photographs as paintings, as things which are infinitely re-workable.  This isn’t true, of course, there are constraints; but we can play with our image files, altering them almost beyond recognition and for many people, especially amateurs, this means “saving” an image.

I have no real difficulty with this idea and process because it’s what I and many others do.

But what we always have to keep in mind is that photo manipulation won’t make a bad photograph into a good photograph. More often than not the best that can be achieved is to make it a little more acceptable rather than an outright failure.

But when an image won’t leave you alone, you have to do something with it.

The two photographs below, from the same session in 2007, have been bugging me since they were first taken and rejected as not good enough. Every few months I would load the files and fiddle with them because they just would not let me forget them. For that reason alone, here they are, along with some comments.



This session was in a national park near Mareeba in Far North Queensland. I had never taken photographs like this. The nudity and the waterfall are a little too cliché, but it was near the end of the session, and I thought Why the hell not?

I took a few shots, none of which worked This was the best of them even though I messed up the composition (especially the placement and pose of the model), and the exposure wasn’t what I wanted it to be, to say the least. At the same time, the overall composition isn’t entirely awful, and I liked the inward and downward pressure of the boulders, and the manner in which you can’t see where the water is coming from (it isn’t coming from where you immediately think it is), and the leaves on the wet rock…

Strangely enough, what I like most, however, is the expression on Danni’s face: she wasn’t comfortable. The rocks were slippery, the water was freezing, and she wasn’t going to try and pretend otherwise. (Nor was she going to try another pose. And I didn’t blame her: I had felt the water.)

The end result is that after years of looking at the shot and working on it, I finally produced the image above. It still doesn’t work. It never was a good shot and it never will be. One artist friend said it would be interesting enough if it weren’t for the naked body. Another, in an unusual bout of complete condemnation, said that she understood why I had so much difficulty with it.

But I like it. And when I get around to exhibiting it, I will claim it is a comment on the presentation of women as being a part of primal nature, how Danni’s expression and bodily attitude shows the absurdity of such a proposition…


“The Challenge”

Muirhead-love hate challenge-lr


This one is from the same session as the previous photograph. Yet again, I failed to get it quite right, but the image wouldn’t let me forget it. I liked some of the structural aspects of the shot, the various “V” shaped structural lines and the repetition of shape and line. I also love the expression on her face, which seems to me to be a challenge echoing the love/hate tattoo on her arm. In many ways, in fact, it is an image which makes me uneasy because it just doesn’t sit right.

Perhaps it is merely because I don’t normally take photographs like this one either. But, most likely, it is because there is a sense of  (all but sullen) challenge in her face that we do not usually see in a pose that we are more likely to associate with submissive, sexually available women.

Whatever it is, the photograph isn’t as good as I want my works to be, but I like it, and even though it isn’t the best of my work, I’ll exhibit this one also.

The point, I suppose, is that we all do work which isn’t quite good enough, but which we find reasons to show because there is something about it that tugs at our minds and imaginations. I guess the problem is finding a way in which the mediocre can be seen as something a little bit more. All I can say is that I hope I have managed this with these images, but perhaps I haven’t: all of my artist friends have refused to even acknowledge that they saw this one. And that, I suppose, is the ultimate condemnation from people who usually like my work.