Sunday, September 9, 2018

From forest to trees, Pre-visualization

Back to my recent theme of "In order to make photographs, we must be simultaneously deeply aware of the forest, and be completely oblivious to the forest."

It occurs to me that part of the function of pre-visualization, as espoused by Mr. Adams (for example) is to make this leap. I think you can argue that the process of pre-visualization is in fact specifically to make the leap.

One wanders through Yosemite, with the portfolio as a whole in mind, feeling that emotional response to the rocks, the trees, the water. One stumbles across something, or perhaps visits for the 1000th time something, and feels that it might belong in the body of work. One feels the right things there. The process of pre-visualization takes the pre-existing style notes of the portfolio as it stands, together with the emotional response one feels in the moment, together with the scene itself, and attempts to boil that into a singular object, a photograph.

In the process, one sheds temporarily the larger picture. The forest (both real and metaphorical, here), I think, fades into the background and brings the trees into focus. Ones view narrows to the single picture. It's not Miksang by any means. Adams took as very technical view of all these things, but I think that he saw it first, and derived the technical details from his hallucination of what it might be.

I've written about pre-visualization in the distant past, treating it then as a process of directed inspiration. One has to, I believe, make a creative leap from the needs of the photograph to the actualization of it, and that is not a trivial process.

An interesting, but I think accidental, connection arises here.

Creative inspiration is a well understood process. You can to a degree manage that "Eureka!" moment, by alternating between thinking very hard about the problem, and stepping away from the problem. Both are necessary. One examines the scene, the idea, and tries to fit ideas, solutions, to it. Perhaps futilely. Then one gives up, takes a walk, takes a shower, a nap. Then back to the problem, another break for an hour, a month, a year, and so on back and forth. It appears that the unconscious works away on the problem in quite different ways as you are resting. At some point, if you are lucky, the solution simply pops up fully formed.

The characteristics of this kind of inspiration are that the solution is more or less fully formed, it arises out of apparently nowhere, and finally that you are quite certain about it.

This resembles superficially the dance back and forth between the portfolio, the project and the individual photo.

So, currently on my mind: What is up with these fluctuations, these rhythmical back-and-forths that seem so necessary to creativity?


  1. "Creative inspiration is a well understood process"...

    Hmm, maybe. This is a bit like saying "playing the saxophone is a well understood process: you blow in one end, twiddle the keys with your fingers, and music comes out the other end..." As a self-confessed and recovering programmer, I'm surprised that you should confuse description with underlying process like this.

    On the other hand, maybe here lies the motivation behind your ongoing investigation into the intersections of true creativity and false rules-based "creativity" (not to mention photography-as-hobby vs. photography-as-art, photographs as indexical vs. photographs as expressive, etc.): you're looking for an algorithm that will account for something that, like being able to walk or invent a world-changing gadget, cannot be achieved by following a sequence of instructions. If only...

    I prefer to think of the Real Thing (the unaccountable human genius for imagining the unprecedented) as the original "black box": tampering with its seals will invalidate your warranty...


    1. Inspiration of that kind IS pretty well understood! I mean, at least, in relative terms. It's a more or less repeatable thing you can learn to do!

      All you're really doing is setting the stage for a perfectly natural process, and anyone who's any good at nominally creative problem solving already does it. Noodle on it a bit, and then go get a cup of coffee and think about sports for a bit. Repeat. The point is though that it's not an accident, it's not just "well, Bill seems to space out a lot, but then he gets it right in the end, weird, huh?" it's actually how Ted and Jane and Mary and everyone else do it to.

      It doesn't always produce answers, but if answers are to be found which cannot be simply worked out on paper, that's pretty much what you've got.

    2. And to your other point, perhaps I am seeking an algorithm for enlightenment, who knows? I'd like to be enlightened, anyways.

      And there is no doubt that I am interested in picking apart those processes by which humans seem to do things that cannot be worked out on paper.

    3. I'm just teasing, really, but consider the difference between, say, knowing how to make babies (easy!) and knowing the actual underlying physiological and biochemical processes involved. That's what I would mean by "well understood", as opposed to "just do it". I'd also suggest that understanding the latter doesn't make the former any more straightforward, and may even impede it...


  2. btw, for an enlightenment algorithm, this is a fine effort:

    You need Flash installed, though, to use it.



    Funny, no ? ;-)