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Some thoughts from Galen Rowell . . . which one describes what you do?

Discussion in 'The Watering Hole' started by Jock Elliott, Aug 6, 2014.

  1. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott SC All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY
    In Galen Rowell's Vision, The Art of Adventure Photography, Rowell proposes a four level scale of photography (bear in mind that he shot when film was the only game in town):

    "My proposed four-level scale begins with snapped images. Although auto-everything cameras allow images of high technical quality to be made without much forethought, I believe that not even one in a million snapsnots of nature communicate a strong emotional response to their subject as well as a fine preconceived image.

    The next level, previsualized, describes passively preconceived images. These are discovered with normal vision and then mentally translated into the language of film. Guided by some understanding of how film sees the world differently than the human eye, previsualization allows photographers to fine-tune and correct a scene that is already before them. This is a far as your camera's instruction manual takes you.

    The third level, preconceptualized, applies to actively preconceived images. Here the content, composition, and exposure have been rethought based upon an active visualization of the finished photograph, rather than a passive one that happens to be visible through the viewfinder at the time. The photographer might scout the scene and return when the light is different or seek a different background for the same landscape. This is your basic nature calendar level: dramatic, technically perfect, well composed, but only rarely inspired.

    The highest level, created, applies only to images that were imagined as true finished appearance on film before they were seen in real life. They are revealed by a process of discovery that, to me, is by far the most satisfying aspect of nature photography. Even through the failures outnumber the successes, the idea of pursuing a dream image in my imagination and going to find the place where it actually happens before my eyes is what keeps my creative juices flowing year after year."

    My reaction: I find that I am almost always in the first category. My mental conception of what I do is that I find images and try to capture them. I don't create images; I see a scene -- a large majority of the time, a dynamic scene, one that could change at any moment -- I react to it emotionally and then I try to capture it. Afterwards, I may do some post processing to try to bring the captured image into line with what I saw in my mind's eye. The idea of previsualizing the perfect image and then going out to try to find it in real life seems utterly foreign to me.

    And it leads by logical extension, I think, to the idea of simply creating the perfect idealized image digitally from an assemblage of images. Last year I was cruising some photography books when I came across an image of a tiger walking by an Asian village on a stream with some mountains in the background. It was a staggering, jaw-dropping image, a Holy Bleep, that's amazing! image. The tiger came from one file, the village from another (and it was duplicated and flipped to complete the village scene), the mountains from another image, the sky from another; followed by some 40 hours of photoshop to produce the final result. And somebody had to previsualize and preconceptualize the whole thing before they at last created it.

    So which level describes what you do or is it something else altogether?

    Cheers, Jock
     
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  2. pdh

    pdh SC Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    "Level" is interesting isn't it? It implies a hierarchy of quality.

    Visualisation and previsualisation ... I wonder why people bother to use the latter? Reading minor white probably.


    I suppose I wonder what's useful about these sorts of categories? How does it help me to think of some my photos as snaps and others as previsualised?

    What if I'm a really unimaginative and dull photographer (quiet there at the back please) and I decide I only want to produce previsualised photographs? Will I then continue to make snaps but only call them previsualised?

    I'm sure he's trying to help people think a bit about what they're doing, by the way, I just don't know how helpful it is to do it this way.

    Like just about everyone, I do all of the categories and a few more he hasn't defined besides ...
     
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  3. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I don't get his categories. Or his description of them at least. I agree with the first - everyone can take a "snapshot", which doesn't mean there's anything at all wrong with them, but they tend to be more about a memory than about image making. But to me, the beauty in "creating" an image through photography is seeing something in the world (natural or human-made - makes no difference) and looking at it deeply enough and from enough perspectives to find and create an image in that object or architecture or scene. Maybe if you know a place EXTREMELY well already, you can pre-visualize, pre-conceptualize, and create well in advance. But you've already "seen it in real life". And often seeing a place or a thing with new eyes - seeing it for the first time or nearly the first time - is what stirs the creative juices. And, in other cases, as with action and street photography, it's an ongoing attempt to see images evolving in constantly changing dynamic scenes with moving parts. It's much more of a "snap" process, but to do it right you have to at least TRY like hell to pre-visualize and anticipate, at least by a second or two...

    But I couldn't pre-visualize or pre-conceptualize something I'd never seen. To me, it's all about FINDING images in what you see - SEEING the images where they exist. And recognizing it when you see it. To me, that means seeing the thing before you can find the image in it. Pre-conceptualizing or imagining the "true finished appearance" of an image before I even see what I'm shooting in real life is something I don't get at all. Edward Weston could not have found the amazingly sensuous almost human form in his greatest bell pepper shot if he didn't spend some time looking at that pepper - probably a whole bag of peppers - to discover it's shapes and form. He probably had to experiment with light to see how to get the shadows to fall just so. He found an incredible amazing image in something, but not before he saw it - it was the interactive process of "seeing" that made the art. His "pre-conceptualization" probably came down to cutting a pepper before dinner one night and thinking something along the lines of "these things have some really interesting shapes - I should probably try to photograph a few of them and see if I can unearth some images from them". But I guarantee he couldn't have known what that one amazing image was going to look like before he'd seen THAT particular pepper in real life and played around with framing and angles and light. Ansel Adams couldn't have pre-conceptualized Yosemite if he hadn't already seen it and gotten to know most of it's nooks and crannies.

    I suspect we're getting somewhat screwed up by semantics here because Galen Rowell was obviously a wonderful photographer / image maker with a great eye. I met him very briefly once in 1984 before I fully appreciated who he was. I'd love to have the chance to actually talk to him now about that statement and try to flesh out just what he meant. Because at face value I just don't get it at all. But I suspect with a little bit of explanation I'd have seen what he meant by those words. That obviously can't happen for any of us now.

    But short of such a discussion, I couldn't even begin to put what I do into any of those categories other than to say I usually try to avoid the first category. But my second, third, and fourth categories would be very different than the way I read his descriptions of his. And I can't imagine he didn't mean them differently than I'm reading them....

    -Ray
     
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  4. drd1135

    drd1135 SC Hall of Famer

    Jul 13, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    Steve
    My reading is:

    1. "Previsualized" is a found image.
    2. "Preconceptualized" is probably found as well but the photographer goes back multiple times to learn the scene and seek out different lighting, etc.
    3. "Created" is imagined in my head and I go out and seek the image. I imagine a anthropomorphic tree and go looking through the forest to find it. Painters and pixel artists can skip the looking part.

    This process would be great for nature photography but street work might be tricky. Oddly, the "created" approach might work fairly well for street stuff although it would require the patience of a hunter.

    May the Force be with you.
     
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  5. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott SC All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY
    HCB, I'm pretty sure, on occasion staked himself out somewhere and waited for the interesting thing to happen. The bicyclist and the staircase and the guy jumping over the puddle shots come to mind.

    And, yes, a Jedi does seek these things. . .

    Cheers, Jock
     
  6. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    Luke
    I am at the fifth level. I pre-previsualize an image. I imagine a finalized image. Then I imagine what the scene looked like BEFORE I imagined it.

    I haven't figured out yet how to capture it, but I think I am clearly on the path to a higher plane of photography. Also, I won't be using a camera. I refuse to be limited by any sort of tools. :cool:
     
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  7. pdh

    pdh SC Legend

    Jan 2, 2011
    Well, quite!
    Anyone who thinks the great photographers sort of wandered about hoping to see something interesting or just waiting for creation to strike them has got hold of the wrong end of the stick about what artists do.

    Without exception they have a very clear idea of what they want, why they want it and how they are going to get it. And that will include some strongly intellectualised concepts.

    Winongrand is no exception, by the way, even though he appeared to be random to some eyes

    And I propose on the basis of his most recent post that Luke be admitted to the photographers' Hall of Fame
     
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  8. drd1135

    drd1135 SC Hall of Famer

    Jul 13, 2011
    Southwest Virginia
    Steve
    Don't move beyond that point, Luke. Consummation by materialization of your conceptualization is only degradation of your imagination. Use the Force, L . . . well, you know. :jedi:
     
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  9. Lightmancer

    Lightmancer Super Moderator

    Aug 13, 2011
    Sunny Frimley
    Bill Palmer
    I feel a Boston Box coming on...
     
  10. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    Luke
    of course, if I never consummate my conceptualization by materialization, I won't be any different than the raving madman on the street who describes these fantastical images that are so amazing that madness is the only way for the rest of us to describe it.
     
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  11. bartjeej

    bartjeej SC Hall of Famer

    Nov 12, 2010
    bart
    ... And we certainly wouldn't want anyone to think of you as a madman, would we? :wink:

    I agree with Steve in reply #4 (also on nature being easier than street in this regard), although the few times I set out with an image in mind without knowing in advance where to find it, I failed miserably. I hope to be at the previsualization level, with occasional forays into preconceptualization and far too regular forays into snapping.

    I discovered a few days ago that some of my favourite shots from my Africa trip were snapshots (but then they probably could've been much better with more consideration, at the risk of losing the spontaneous look of the people in the shot). Perhaps I should start practicing street photography a bit...
     
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