One of the things I think that is important in the making of an image, is visualisation. It's such a broad word though in terms of meaning. For the past few days I've been pouring over all the Ansel Adams books to get a better definition. Ansel says: 'visualisation is the mental process of seeing the final image in the minds eye before the picture is taken'.
In order to be able to imagine, or I prefer 'realise' the final image in our minds, I think we need to have an established style, which I think most book writers call 'voice'. Having a strong sense of what your style is, understanding what you would want to do to a scene in photographic terms comes with experience and practice. I know for instance, that my printing techniques have morphed over time. I seem to have a stock number of applications that I will apply to a scene depending on how I interpret it. For example, one might be to darken the foreground down a little to help navigate the eye into the scene.... Because I've had years of experience of interpreting my images in the 'dark room', this has rubbed off on me such that I tend to do that interpretation at the point of capture too. It has affected my judgement at the point of making an image. It has, to be blunt, influenced even my choice of subject.
I will choose a subject these days, not specifically because I think it's beautiful, or obvious (such as an iconic location), but because I find symmetry in it, find balance, pleasing tone and I know it will work well as a photographic print.
This I feel is at the heart of visualisation - being able to look at a scene, reality, and instantly be able to convert it in ones mind from 3D to 2D, with time frozen and understand how the colours and tonal scale of the scene will be rendered on my film.
Which brings me back to dear old film. I find that using film actually helps me in the visualisation process. Because I have no immediate feedback on a preview screen on the back of my camera, I have to build up a mental picture in my head of how the image is going to be interpreted by the camera. The camera as we should all know - does not see the way we see. It is a much less dynamic eye. So there I am out in the field, making an image and for the most part, I have an imagined view of the scene in my head, I have to work out the dynamic range of the scene, use ND graduation to control it. But this all happens as a sixth-sense for want of a better term.
Now consider digital. We get instant feedback, we're able to see how it turned out and correct if need be. That's great isn't it?
To a point.
What digital does for us is break any engagement we have with 'living in the moment'. The instant we stop thinking about making an image and look at that screen, we may as well be checking our e-mail on our iPhone. We're no longer aware of what is happening around us, or even where we are. There is also an over-reliance on the screen. A lot of my pupils on workshops 'believe' what they see on the display and it can't be trusted. It's not calibrated, and screens vary in terms of quality. It is a handicap in some ways to visualisation because it deceives.
But it is a great learning tool in understanding exposure and composition. It's just that there should be a point when we no long use the screen on the back, because we are capable of visualising the final scene in our minds eye and we can trust our judgement.
Visualisation is the abstraction of reality, in some ways, we disengage from the real world because we are able to imagine the real world as a photograph. So my view is that when capturing a scene on film or digital, we should be striving to get the full tonal scale recorded - no blocked shadows and no burnt out highlights. We're not trying to capture the scene as is - in one go. We're aiming to come home with good raw material that can be used to create a good print from.
As Ansel said 'the negative is the score, the print is the performance', and as Ruth Bernhard said 'to stop at the negative, is to not realise the full potential of the image'.
So there we are, visualisation is the mental process of imagining the final print at the point of capture. I think Ansel was right.