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  • martinamargaux

Trust your failures

On the Eurostar towards London, holding tight a large and thin cardboard case, MM was thinking back at the past couple of weeks.

A twirl of panic and pleasure merging together, stretching the brain and filling the heart.

The end of Feb/beginning of March had been an intense period. After finally submitting her Unit 1 papers, MM shifted her focus onto the next milestone: the low residency and her very first exhibition.

"What do I want to show?" she asked herself. She wanted to show art that expressed the deep interior questions that kept coming up when she was looking at the world, art that captured the invisible reality under the surface of daily life, art that merged mastery of techniques with the complexity of a fully-formed artistic poetics. She basically wanted to show art she had yet to give birth to.

So she reformulated the question: "What can I show, that represents me in this very moment? What have I made in my imperfect, incomplete, immature practice, that is important for me to show?"

In the past few months, MM had developed a visceral fascination for the desert. She didn't know why. She still doesn't. Though the vastness of the landscape, the deafening silence, the hidden life concealed beneath the sand, made her feel emotions that were totally new to her and ignited an urge to (try and) capture those emotions.

All she had were attempts, studies, intuitions. She felt particularly connected to a series of pictures "Shadows of Myth", she snapped in AlUla (KSA). There was something in there, though infinitesimally small, that felt significant. That felt like her.

It was decided. She was going to show 3 photographs from this series.

Her fear of screwing it all up kicked in. She wanted to show the work in the best possible format, so she saved up some money and went to see a renown printer in town.

Her practice until that moment focused mainly on darkroom printing, but she chose to print the photos in digital format to make sure they came out "right".

She didn't realise that her reasoning didn't make much sense.

As it was the first time MM was to print fine art photography, she asked for advice to the printer shop assistant. She had in mind this idea to show the work in a rough, naked form. Leave in unframed. Use a paper with some texture that could support the materiality of the subjects.

The printer shop assistant recommended something called "papier peint intissé" (no idea what it's called in English). MM followed the assistant't advice.

From that moment on everything went terribly wrong...and ended incredibly right.

The test prints arrived late, when MM had already left to Morocco for work. The shop assistant showed MM the result on facetime. They looked terrible, all the blacks were crushed, there were no details. But it was unclear on whether that was an effect due to the digital screen of the smartphone or if the result was indeed crap. MM trusted the judgement of the shop assistant, who was supposed to be experienced and, most importantly, was physically in front of the test print. When MM got back to Paris, the prints were late again. They would be ready just in time to be collected and taken to London for the exhibition.

MM's faith in the printer's work started to crumble. Panic mode had been activated.

She had one day left. And a session in the darkroom already booked. "What have I got to lose?" MM thought. She bought a pack of 10 photo papers 40x50 and headed to the lab.

The process of analog printing with large format paper was slightly more complicated than the usual 24x30. The lab's owner gave her a few instructions and changed the enlarger's lens, then went back to his business.

MM found herself alone in the darkroom, enveloped by the familiar red light, nervous about the new challenge.

She put her headphones on and dived into the work. Time started to flow in the same way movements are perceived under water.

After 1 hour of tests, she printed the first image. It was fine. It was beautiful. It was hers.

She printed a second one, and a third one, and a fourth one. And then her session was over, time started ticking at the usual pace again.

The lab had to close. She had to go and pack her bags for London. The dog had to be walked. Everything went back to "normal", with the difference that MM's heart was now filled with a sense of pride and exhilaration. The panic was gone, she no longer cared if the digital prints, that she was going to pick up the next morning, were crap. She even forgot about the exhibition altogether.

MM trusted the professional printer because she didn’t trust herself. And only when the professional failed, she finally found the courage to step in the direction she should have followed all along. Not because she wouldn't fail, but precisely because she might.

On the Eurostar to London, MM felt so proud to hold her artwork, created entirely by her brain, her heart, her hands from A to Z.

She couldn't contain her excitement at the idea of sharing it with her classmates, whom she would finally meet in person after growing so close to them through a screen.

This is what she wanted to show, this is something that represented her in that very moment of her artistic growth, no matter how small it might seem. The first step of a baby needs to be celebrated as much as when, years later, that grown up baby completes a marathon.

Today, MM celebrates this step. At least for one day, she won't be thinking about the marathon.

fresh from the darkroom

the crappy digital print

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