There aren't enough drugs to make me feel better.


I had an accident the other day. Not in my car. Not a "senior moment." I was teaching my photography for graphic designers class. I'd brought in some lighting equipment, my camera, and a polaroid slide film processor. My new fave toys. I wanted to do a little demo on lighting and then have the results right there on slide film. (As always, seeking immediate gratification.) I set up the lights, camera and a chair. I got a volunteer and I went to work. But as I was trying to meter the set-up with the strobe light, I kept getting an impossible reading off my meter. It wanted an aperture of 90. Most of my lenses only go to 22. In front of the class, I was having one of those "oh, shit!" moments.

(My wee brain ticked furiously. The polaroid instant slide film is tricky. It doesn't read the same as regular film when you use automatic exposure settings on the camera. I usually set the film speed a couple of stops down. But that was the film. In the camera. I was metering the scene using the strobe and the electronic meter.)

I tried several things. Re-set the meter, flashed. Re-set the meter, flashed. Re-set the meter, flashed.

(Wee brain... struggling. The strobe light was daylight, the room was dark, the film was weird. The camera on auto would read the film differently, so in manual... I was confused. I usually saved this kind of ineptitude for first dates.)

The meter had never messed up before, but now... I decided to wing it. I had no reading. I set the film speed to 400, as the film is rated. Chose an exposure. I set the camera on manual and flashed away. Shot my twelve shots.

(We kept records, but that was like the Titanic keeping records of the iceberg's temperature.)

Afterwards, I set up the polaroid processor. There's the film and an accompanying developer pack which you use once and then toss. You load them both into the machine and the chemicals in the developer pack process the film as they are wound together. Confused? Bottom line, the class took a break, and I processed the film.

The film looked almost blank. The pictures came out way too light. So, I decided to shoot another roll right away. I set the film speed to 125. Got a few people to sit, and I shot some more.
As I tried to process the second roll, I knew something was wrong. The handle stuck. The processing strip in the developer pack had retreated into the pack. The chemicals were gone. I now had an exposed roll of film and no way to process it. (Oh, shiite...)
I tried to break open the pack and get the developer, but it wouldn't come out. Finally, I decided to use the old processing pack. I had no idea if it would work, if there were enough chemicals left. I ran the film through the processor. And sure enough -- the old processor strip stuck to the roll of film. The chemicals were spread across the film like piles of honey. It was a disaster.

("There are no mistakes, only opportunities for a change in style." I'd said that in class a dozen times... How were those words going to taste?)

The rest of the class was devoted to reviewing the student work. Another good night. As the students presented their work, I worked with the botched slides. I scraped most of the crap off the film, pulled off the black stuff, wiped off the toxic gunk. And then I cut up the film and put the pieces into slide mounts.

Class ended. But before they all left, I asked them to take a look at the slides with me. They stayed. I loaded up the carousel. To everyone's surprise, the slides turned out pretty cool. Completely different than expected, but cool. They were impressed with the results.

One of the things I tell my class is that things will go wrong, and their job is to deal with it. Problem solve. Survive. In my (uncharacteristic) panic, I had screwed up royally. The meter wasn't broken, the strobe light was too bright. The processor pack wasn't screwed up, I turned the handle the wrong way. I realized all of this, of course, after class. (I'll tell them.)
But even though things had gone so wrong, I knew there was somethng there. Something on that film. And under their eyes, on my feet, I had pulled the baby out of the fire. It didn't look like its parents, but...

I'm enjoying teaching. My over-used excuse for never going into teaching was always that I didn't know anything, so how could I teach? Well, apparently now I know enough so I can teach. A little bit of photographic knowledge. Some design experience. But when I consider what I really have to offer, it's support and enthusiasm. Maybe in this particular case, that's enough.

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