Surprise and anticipation are two of the very best things about analogue photography. It’s exciting, fun, and a thousand things digital photography can’t possibly be. But sometimes the surprises aren’t so super, like when an alternative processing experiment goes horribly wrong, or the back comes off your camera and exposes the film inside. And then there’s that occasional roll of damaged film that’s too damaged and the negatives end up being a long strip of nothing at all.
Thankfully, these instances are rare and more often than not, “mistakes” turn out to be anything but. I’ve made every “mistake” possible, I think — many repeatedly, sometimes on purpose, but much of the time not. One of my all-time favourites is the “fat roll” and its resulting light leaks, which I discovered by accident during my first summer of analogue photography, while using a Holga CFN.
If you haven’t encountered a fat roll yourself here’s the deal: there are slight differences and quirks in every medium format toy camera, and frequently one of those quirks is that certain brands of film will fit differently in your camera than others. Because the plastic Kodak spools differ ever-so-slightly from the Fuji ones, when you switch between films you have a good chance at getting a fat roll (ie. shooting a Fuji film onto the Kodak spool from the film that was last in your camera).
The film will feel tight when you wind it, almost to the point of being stuck. And when you finally finish and pop your camera’s back you’ll find a loosely-wound roll that’s at least as wide as the ends of the spool. This is a fat roll and you’re going to get light leaks along the top and bottom of your frames, sometimes more.
My first fat roll had one of my all-time favourite photos, of a hipster fox/child wearing a gold tunic and black tights. The light leak was spectacular, perfectly placed and made the image so much more distinctive than it would have been without.
I’ve learned to control fat rolls and light leaks (unless I want a fat roll or leaks, I keep a camera dedicated to Fuji film and another to Kodak), but sometimes I forget and load a Fuji roll after a Kodak one. And those are the days I can’t wait to get to the lab — to see what kind of “mistakes” I’ve made this time.
What’s your favourite mistake? Share your stories and images with me!
Pamela Klaffke is a former newspaper and magazine journalist who now works as a novelist and photographer. Her column appears weekly in the Analogue Lifestyle section of Lomography Magazine.