Creative: The Worst Photograph Ever Made

I’ve come to an important conclusion. This is the single worst photograph ever made. This image was made from an airboat on the Texas coast during a duck hunting expedition my father and I undertook in the early 1980s. This horrific “capture” was made with a Kodak Disc Camera.

My father didn’t like photography or photographers for that matter and really didn’t have much patience for the arts in general. Were he alive today he would be voting Republican and would be totally in favor of cutting back any funding related to the arts. The only thing I ever witnessed him photograph were hunting and fishing expeditions and each year he would make a single photograph during our Christmas celebrations. For him, a typical roll of 35mm film would only include about eight frames total three of which would be from separate Christmas “shoots.” Seriously, one frame a year. The rest of the frames would most typically be accidents. He would then run out of patience and get the film processed at the one-hour lab down the road.

Here is the takeaway. Something triggered this photograph. He and I were in the same airboat traveling at high-speed across the shallow bay but I never thought of making this picture. For some reason, something in this landscape forced him to make a mental and physical decision. He then had to take off his gloves, dig into his jacket pocket and retrieve the camera. He then had to frame this thing while traveling at high speed in high wind. Something in this tragically mundane scene passed through his retina, passed into his cerebral cortex which in turn triggered his muscular system to act. This scene. The one in the image above. Think about that.

This is why finding yourself as a photographer is so important. My father had no intention of ever showing this to anyone other than me. Today, I get the feeling that many working photographers are ONLY shooting for the audience. If you do this, and only this, you will never actually find yourself. And it is a guarantee you will never make original work. It is quite possible that one of you will look at this image and say “It’s not THAT bad,” or “I’ve made worse.” Again, that is my point.

This image might suck beyond belief but this image is HIS image. This is one of the rare moments in life when I’m going to encourage you to be greedy. I’m going to encourage you to make the worst photographs you have ever made as long as they truly belong to you. A friend just sent a link to a recent photo essay that is getting buzz. We both looked at the work and said: “Yep, it looks like work that this magazine runs, every single one of their features looks the same.” Photographers, especially self-taught photographers, just cruise what is getting published and they copy what they see. The checklist of color, lit, medium distance, posed and produced all ingredients that shorten the amount of time required to make the actual work.

After dad died I went through his truck attempting to clean out his belongings. In the center console, I found a plastic Russian camera. My first thought was “Ah, the old man was working for the Ruskies.” But I then pieced together that it had been a giveaway of some sort. In the camera was a roll of film. About eight frames. I processed it but the time and temperatures were too much. Nothing but grain. I’ve often wondered what the Hell he was doing with this thing and what prompted those eight frames. I’ll never know.

6 Comments on “Creative: The Worst Photograph Ever Made”

  1. “Ah, the old man working for the Ruskies” – I can hear you saying that like Bruce Dern character in The ‘Burbs.

    Still have that camera?

    1. Mark,
      The camera was melted basically. The South Texas sun had taken a toll. Otherwise, I’d be using it!

  2. Man, how often I have this discussion. People looking for, and imitating what’s popular today and already chasing the trends of tomorrow.

    I always quote the following snippet of a Gregory Heisler interview in these discussions, that puts it perfectly:

    at 03:58…

    “Style is something you can’t work towards, it’s something you see in hindsight”

    You have to be capable to listen to your internal voice though. So many photographers are stuck in technicalities like “proper”[sic!] exposure, sharpness and AF speed.

    1. Michael,
      Photographers have always suffered for their technical obsessions. These days, with YouTube and the internet, in general, we have exponentially increased the dork factor. However, in many ways, the technical obsession by prosumer and consumer photographers is the ONLY thing keeping the industry afloat. There are far more “photographers” who want to talk tech than there are photographers who want to talk photography. And vanity metrics are dominating the feedback arena.

  3. a bad photo with a good story is always a good one
    a bad story with a good photo doesn’t make it a good one
    a good photo with a good story is gold
    gold is digging
    gold is effort
    gold is hard work
    gold needs good light to find it

    dig it Dan

    my 50 cents…

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