We live in a time where perfection is king. Our computers exist to help make everything they process perfect, even the cameras on our phones record the lightest light and the darkest dark. And if something isn’t perfect we have numerous tools to touch things up and make them perfect.
For these reasons, I’m interested in ‘imperfections’ and the quality of making mistakes. It sounds strange, but if everything is perfect, there is no creativity anymore. New ideas spring from failures or mistakes. These errors can change previous perceptions and open up new ways of looking at things, thus making the mistake something to strive for.
Failures and inspiration from mistakes can be found pretty much everywhere. Just by walking down the street and keeping an eye open often works. The most funny and ridiculous mistakes are often made in constructions or road works. A classic is the letters STOP stencilled on the road. There are numerous examples where road workers did not really get the idea of how to do it. It’s remarkable how many mistakes one can make with this four-letter word.
Another classic mistake, but more rare, is to find things that can go wrong in constructing a balcony. How can you build a balcony when the door isn’t yet ready? Or how about having a lovely balcony, the only problem is that it’s built right above a train track.
Frequently these construction mistakes involve toilets. A bathroom is usually a small space to construct, so a mistake is often quickly made. There’s for instance the difficulty of a toilet door opening so the inside can be a problem. The only solution here is to carve a piece out of the door, so it won’t bump into the toilet seat. Things get even funnier when the toilet seat and cover are constructed in the wrong order. You feel the confusion and desperation of someone confronted with this situation.
Often there’s no need to go out looking for these mistakes yourself. There are hundreds of people online, all on the hunt, photographing and sharing these errors. The ones that I find the most myself are situations with trees. A tree is a big thing that is difficult to move from its place. This can be a problem. Especially when this tree is standing exactly in front of a parking spot. In this way it’s totally impossible to enter the parking spot, even though the parking spot is inviting you by the letter P standing on a sign. In the same category you find a tree standing in the middle of a cycling path or staircases.
An artist and photographer who has a brilliant eye for mistakes is André Thijssen. For many years he searches all over the world for images that are slightly off. The only images he’s interested in are the ones that show something not natural in a natural environment. The classic example is a car parked with his wheels right in front of two concrete balls on the pavement. The balls make the new wheels of the car.
Maybe the best example I found representing mistakes is an album of an American family fighting against the biggest mystery in photography: How to shoot my black dog? They failed all their lives to document their dog and as a result of that, the dog appeared as a black shadow on every image.
A black phantom in front of their house, on their sofa, in the garden and on their bed. In the end the family got really frustrated and started to over-expose the images. As a result of which there’s one image where you can see the dog. Finally.
Making and finding mistakes is something to wake up for, it’s shines a light on the difficulties in a creative process. By looking at them and embracing them you will end making unexpected and wonderful discoveries.
Long live the Mistake!