SEEING BEFORE YOU LOOK
Yesterday morning, I gathered up my camera, a cup of tea, and a few snacks and headed out to Needles Overlook to capture the moody light and rolling fog created by the evaporation of the previous night's torrential rains. Having watched the storm's blue-black clouds hover over Canyon Rims from my front porch, I knew there would be some interesting views in the expanse between the rim's edge and Islands in the Sky where the Colorado river winds its way through eons of eroded rock.
But fog fugues do not wait for those who almost get stuck in back-road mud slicks and highway road construction. By the time I made it out to the overlook, the fog had mostly dissipated and all that was left were a few white puffs shrinking from the rising sun along the perimeter of Canyonlands. I couldn't quite compose the scenes the way I had visualized.
I have been reading essays and pouring over photographs of some of the great early landscape photographers - Minor White, Edward Weston, and of course, Ansel Adams and came across the idea of pre-visualization first promoted by Adams. Pre-visualization as described in various writings by Adams, White, and others encompasses the art of seeing and composing the photograph even before the camera is set on the tripod. Elements of mood, texture, weather, and dramatic light are to be incorporated and considered along with basic composition techniques.
A few years ago, I watched an Olympic figure skater move through dry runs of her program prior to performance on out on the ice. Theater and movie actors rehearse their lines and scenes until they become second nature. The more I engage in the art of photography, the more I find myself practicing before I'm due on the ice and rehearsing the scene until I know that when I jump in the car with camera bag in tow, the possibilities for an outstanding performance are more likely.
Looking back on the evolution of my photography, I feel that the solo treks wandering through the desert prior to becoming focused on photography as my primary creative expression spawned and nurtured a pre-visualization practice which feeds and informs each photo I take.
Knowing the day-to-day and month-to-month moods of the weather, knowing where the flash floods and waterfalls make their fleeting appearances, and knowing what edges and crests yield stunning vistas guides me to previously visited sites and known routes. More importantly, I have private, lesser known places I go for contemplative, close-up scenes that have an intimate emotional appeal apart from the grand WOW.
Of course, serendipity can play the role of happy chance as well as havoc like the quickly fading fog of yesterday and unforeseen consequences of denied access and thwarted timing.
Yet the pre-visualization of an event or circumstance need not fail in light of uncontrollable events. Sometimes a 180 degree turn, or a look down or up, or a simple sit and wait, can change the scene and more importantly one's own disappointment and feelings of lost opportunity. Pre-visualization is not a static principal to be applied and ticked off the list, it is the essential elan one brings to your art and picture making.
My poetry mentor, the late Ken Brewer, taught that in order to move a reader, the poet must provide concrete images. Stormy sky and overcast sky change the mood of ordinary sky. No crying in the writing, no crying in the reading as the saying goes. This idea can be applied to photography and pre-visualization. Not that making viewers cry is necessary, but most art is about evoking an emotional response and if there is no emotional investment in the creation of each photo or any other activity where one aspires to wrest a response from others, the audience may be lost to apathy.
So my pre-visualizations yesterday morning of dreamy, surreal red rock cliffs in fog gave way to distant, shadowy vistas and rainbows and reminded me, as I focused instead on the remnants of flash floods, of what I'm really made of - Mud!
No comments posted.