“No man steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river and he’s not the same man”.
Is there a more familiar and oft quoted phrase in landscape photography than Ansel Adams famous: “previsualization”. I always get a chuckle when I see this term as it makes me think of “confusing chaos”, somewhat of an obvious redundancy. My guess is that simply “visualization” is what he meant and worked with in the field and in his darkroom. Like most landscape photographers, I too, am an admirer of both his wonderful work, and having read most of his books, his volumes of writings both on technique and photographic philosophy. His writings were an inspiration for me to write about my thoughts and approach to the fine art of the landscape. Musing on a side note, I always think about him at least once a year as we share the same birthday, February 20th, the day I was born on his 50th, in 1952. We all are richer for his elevating both the art of photography and a higher conscious awareness of the value of wilderness and our deep connection to it. His work in environmental preservation has been transformative in the way we see ourselves and our relationship to the earth that sustains us.
“Our lives are the very unfolding of the eternal universe … radiating and emerging through the portals of our art”
It is in thinking about Adams and considering his foundational impact on modern landscape photography and the concept of visualization, that with each passing year in my work, I wonder more and more: does that term have a greater, more dynamic and purposeful meaning, I ask myself: are we really the same person processing and rendering the image as the one that captured it”? Is what we visualized at the time of capture what we’re really going to precisely produce in print(or otherwise) now? I ask myself that question because I notice that as I process an image, and work through it carefully, often times I find many things in it that I didn’t see at the time of capture, but more to the point, I found elements that weren’t part of my visualization. Part of that is simply my tendency to be sloppy and non-attentive to details at times. A well known photographer, in my area of the San Juan Islands of Washington State, once told me that he would spend four months a year photographing, and would do his film development and printing all at once in a couple of months period once a year. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I now wonder, how is he going to print his images with the same vision he had six months ago, for however little we may have changed, we are not the same consciously aware person now that we were in the days past? However small our conscious awareness have expanded, expanded it has nevertheless, whether we realize it or not. Or as Abner Prior likes to perceive it:
“Life that is not growing is life that is dying, thus let us endeavour not to die before we are dead, for that is only a choice”
“For what is the meaning of life, but a consciously aware life, well lived, unfolding before our very eyes”?
I don’t really go back to my favorite locations to see how the landscape is different, I go back to see how I’m different. I used to have a little catch phrase I recited to describe the practice of returning to a landscape many times to see how it changes and evolves over time: “returning means learning”. But now decades later, that phrase has a whole new meaning for me … it simply means learning who I am now … thus the landscape, though I might wish to see how it has changed, in fact becomes a mirror into which I look to see how I have evolved, as this simply manifests and is reflected in the experience I had and the resulting images I produce.
“Your world is just yourself pushed out”
Thus, in the most significant way, the person processing the image is not the same person who tripped the shutter, and concomitantly, the landscape rendered in the raw file no longer exists in manifest reality. What exists now is only the photographer’s impression and memory of that place in time, that experience. As such, what we do in post processing is to reinterpret and express our experience of that place in time. It is not an absolute, nor was it ever so. Hopefully, we have moved past those previous, contentious days with the introduction of digital, where the argument against it was that with manipulation of the image so easy and nearly limitless, that digital images had no “veracity” because we could not trust that the image was an actual, “irretrievably accurate” rendering of the absolute truth of what the photographer saw and photographed. We now see this for the misguided and increasingly irrelevant notion that was firmly grounded and practiced in traditional, film based photography.
Its not nearly so much the visual we are remembering but the feeling it evoked. Now we must set about to recreate that which elicited those feelings. For however much we think we remember exactly how we felt, our expression of that experience however true to it we think we are being, will only reflect that which we are now, for vision, like our very essence, is not static, it evolves, and our artistic expression with it.
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others feel”
Another very popular and useful concept that we’re al familiar with is: “the art of seeing”, a term that I have used often through the years in my writings and coffee table books. However, with the passing years and my work as both a trumpet soloist performing with my projected images on stage and now, post trumpet playing, in multimedia projects have at last brought me to a place where I like to call: “the art of feeling”. I have come to know “feeling” as that which is our very essence, our spirit, that which renders us as, consciously aware, and creative/expressive sentient beings. For this very simple reason, there is no limitation in the expression of feelings. Ultimately, art isn’t about what we see, but what we feel. Feeling is the deepest and most profound form of the human state of being and communication, and as such is the first language of all art. Thus, it is through our art that we reveal to the world who we really are. As visual artists, we feel with our heart but think with our eyes.
“One picture worth a thousand feelings, for in the inadequacy of words lies the real truth of our feelings”
I see things in the image now I didn’t see at the time of capture. After all, how long can or does one want to remain at a location to capture a compelling image? As such, how can we expect, that however carefully we observed the scene, that we were able to see everything worthwhile there was to see?. This is one of the greatest aspects of digital(or any photography) … to be able to see even more after the capture than at the time of capture.
Art is the expression of our feelings brought into conscious form and memorialized for all time.
It isn’t nearly so much about what we see, then how we feel about what we see. This is what a well conceived and executed image expresses. And if we succeed, the viewer will feel it, or most likely their own interpretation of that which we felt … for after all, how can we ever really know exactly how another person feels about something? Further, have you ever contemplated the notion that we can’t even truly know if the red, blue, or green hues I see, are exactly the same red, blue, and green hues that you see? Is there some absolute color reality that exists in all the universe? No, I’m smoking anything … just making the point that our own perception is our dominant reality, and as such holds true for those who would experience our art in whatever form in may take.
I shared this article with a photographer friend before submitting, and although he liked it, asked whether I wasn’t “over thinking” it a bit? To which I laughed and replied: “perhaps, but I think not, for I have at last come to realize that “mindless unawareness is the playground of mediocrity”.
“What you put your attention on becomes your intention, and thus your intention now possesses the creative power of the universe”
The concept of “visualization” in my conceptual workflow has now gained an important new dimension, that, for simplicity, I simply think of as the experiential evolution of consciousness awareness and its manifestation in my finished image. What do you suppose Ansel would have to say about this? My guess, is that he, too, found things in the negative in the darkroom that he didn’t see or feel at the time he tripped the shutter. For at last, like the man stepping in the river for the second time, he is not the same man and it is not the same river, neither are we the same conscious being rendering the finished image as the one that originally conceived and captured it.
So, in closing, I would like to say that the deepest joy in my photography now is looking at the work of this evolving artist, stepping into his river of a new awareness, bearing witness to the small, but very real ways in which these new images reflect a life and spirit that is growing. And for that, I am eternally grateful … for after all, that, is the very essence of a life, well lived, unfolding before my very eyes.
Bruce W. Heinemann is a fine art landscape photographer, writer, and speaker living in the San Juan Islands of Washington State
His website: https://www.theartofnaturegallery.com/