Visualisation .......and a lack of it.
Updated: Jun 14, 2021
For many people reading this the second half may seem odd and difficult to imagine, and the irony in that statement will become clear later.... as will the irony in that one !
As a photographer, (and reference to Ansel Adams again) , visualisation is considered an important aspect in the making of a creative work. The ability to picture in your mind the way an image will look if something was different, or the light shone here instead of there ..... and for me what it would look like in black and white. This allows the photographer to imagine the final image and make adjustments based on an aesthetic that they find to be pleasing or to represent their own view of something.
For example when using film , the effect a red filter may have on the scene , or the way the water will look with a 1/2 second exposure. These visualisations, in theory assist the process and decision making needed to refine an image to the way you would want it to look.
Looking deeper it also assists the ability of a photographer to visit a location and find a new composition that needs vastly different conditions to those available right then. Assisting the photographer to go back at the right time and in the right conditions with a clear goal in mind.
This process of visualisation is internal and inherent in the vast majority of photographers and artists and indeed the general population. Most people when given a subject they are familiar with ( such as "picture in your mind a beach or your home") can do so clearly and at will. Similarly most photographers can imagine a change to what they are seeing right now ( such as a change in lighting or conditions ) and imagine the final print or image they could make from the current opportunity before them but with changed conditions.
I have read about it and in a way I use it and up to a few years ago thought that the way I visualise things was no different to anyone else but recently found the way I visualise is quite different to the norm. I can look at a scene and imagine it to be in black and white ( in most cases I don’t really notice the colours anyway ) I know what will happen with the application of a filter and I know what a scene will look like with light coming from a different direction. I can describe all this and plan for it and execute it.
My only problem is that for as long as I can remember I have never been able to see images in my head or in my "minds eye".
I have stated on my website that the image shown below was pre-visualised and planned for but the actual pre-visualisation was really a case of imagining the concept of it and “knowing” that it may work in these conditions. In the field (literally) the image came together as I had hoped it would and I think it worked.
Sun and Fog , Newcastle Emlyn. Click image to go to image on the website
The problem I had from conception of the image to the final image was a lack of ability to “see” the result I was working towards. I know inherently where I am going but without the image in front of me I cannot imagine what it will look like with changes made and nor can I imagine what tonal changes will do to the image before me before I make them. When I visited this place previously and knew the sun rises "over there" at certain times of the year, I knew I wanted fog to enhance the view (and reduce the brightness of the sun) but had no way of seeing it in my mind whatsoever.
It is part of the reason why when I am exposing a photograph, I am looking at the image file or negative from a technical point of view and as explained in my previous blog, attempting to get the best possible starting file rather than something close to the finished "print", because I just cant see the finished print at all. My response to the scene is born from artistic standpoint and to some degree the composing of it is done "naturally" in that I don't use any "rules" and if some images look like they conform to a rule....it will be quite by chance and just happened to be where I ended up.
I love using a large format camera and both my 5x4s give me a very satisfying and intense viewing experience when hiding under the dark cloth making adjustments to composition and focus. This activity probably gets me as close as I can get to seeing the finished print because the image is framed, and under the cloth its the only thing visible and thus gets 100% attention. I "know" how it will look in black and white because in the majority of cases the colours on the ground glass do not really register to any meaningful degree and it is all about shapes and relationships. To a lesser degree really, looking through the viewfinder on my Sony (much preferred to looking at the screen!) gives a similar abstraction of the framed image but feels a lot less tactile if that's the right word. It does allow the same decisions to be made regarding composition etc but I feel even further removed from the final image. The Sony by the way produces astonishing images and are comparable to what I can get out of a home scanned 5x4 sheet....possibly, but having had a few drum scanned sheets of film done.....wow!
I only recently found out there is a name for it and it is an actual thing as I thought it was just me !
I did a bit of research on aphantasia before writing this blog as at that point I considered it to be something that might be of interest rather than the central thread of this post.
There are many tests you can do to determine your ...level of it and the best way I found of expressing it is to ask you to imagine a red star on a black background in your mind and then look at the image below to see what best matches what you see in your mind's eye.
For me it is 99% box 1 with the occasional glimpse/flash non-tangible awareness of box 2.
I am not sure whether this gives me a disadvantage or not as I really have no awareness of any other way of imagining images in my mind. I guess it makes me work in a certain way both in the field and in the making of the final image and I would say forces a technical approach for much of the process. I would say the way my "flow" goes is:
Artistic or aesthetic response and the need to photograph the thing that caused it (blind to the final image, but aware of the concept or idea)
Automatic response to framing and composition (I see it ! but only in reality)
Technical decisions on exposure etc (blind)
scanning (grrr) / RAW processing (blind)
Initial editing / technical corrections (blind)
Artistic or aesthetic "playfulness" with the image until it is "finished" (I see it ...gradually but I know where I am trying to get to)
It would be really interesting to hear from anyone that has a similar issue, or, from people that don't as my assumption of how it may be beneficial to be able to imagine an image and how that could help, is from my part pure speculation as I really don't know what it would be like . I have tried imagining what it would be like to be able to see images in my minds eye but can't even do that for obvious reasons !
I am pretty certain that the images are in my mind somewhere but for whatever reason I can't actively access them and "see" them . I know this because I can almost see images that have inspired me over the years , but when I say almost see, I mean not see but have a very clear impression of them in my mind.
For anyone that knows me, you now know why when I try to explain something I always draw a diagram, because I can't see one in my head.
Next week developing and scanning permitting, I might talk about my first ever pinhole camera attempts, which are ...ongoing.
Thanks for reading !
On very rare occasions I do see colour of course !...
Snapped with my iPhone while walking the banks with a pinhole and black and white film in my bag. I was shocked by the intensity of the blue !
Future Blogs - (in no particular order)
Approaching a scene
The books that gave me the most powerful insights (review)
The Ashness Bridge story and how I learned to turn the other way