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Life Lessons And A New Use For Negatives

If you're over the age of 20, odds are you have old negatives gathering dust in shoeboxes somewhere — photos from disposable cameras, field trips, vacations, etc. They may seem useless, but to photographer Martin Wilson, the art IS the negative. To be more accurate, Wilson is not recycling old negatives; he shoots a roll with no intention of making prints.

The England-based artist is an extreme disciple of the adage that every frame counts. If he misses a frame — say he forgets to remove his lens cap — he starts over. "Each work usually takes months to complete," he writes in an artist statement, "as each frame is obsessively taken in sequence. No pasting together after the event, no cheating in Photoshop!"

It began as a simple idea. He wanted to make a Valentine's gift for his wife, he explained in an e-mail. But what began as a side project for Wilson, an art director in children's publishing, became "like a second job." That commitment to delayed gratification seems unthinkable these days, and even Martin gets frustrated:

"You can often find me pacing up and down beside the road, cursing quietly to myself! ... It's difficult to say how many attempts I make for each series. But I rarely manage a complete piece without at least one foiled attempt. I think my record was six wasted films before I had a complete series for the first film in Double Yellow Lines. I nearly gave up!"

But Martin has extreme adherence to another adage — that the journey is the reward: "The works are all records of real journeys," his statement reads, "the visual remnants of hours walking or cycling round town, bringing to life the unheard voices of the city." So maybe you can't do what Martin does with your old negatives. But still — think twice before trashing them; the negative can be the art.