Understanding the Creative Process
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The final stage is verification – reality testing our solution by implementing it and making an image. Obviously the solutions won’t all be masterpieces but the longer we can delay closure the better the chance. If a particular photograph, a verification, fails to meet our criteria then we must simply start again from square one. One great advantage of digital photography is that the verification is instantly available for the photographer to assess without the traditionalists agonized waiting for hours or days. The images that accompany this article were all made on a single afternoon in Death Valley, California. They were all made on a compact camera apart from the final image of the rear window of a wrecked car which was taken on Velvia on a 5X4 camera. The series represents the development process that I have described here leading to my particular answer to the divergent problem that these subjects posed. As can be seen, I made many images that offer solutions to this particular compositional conundrum. But the final 5x4 image is the one I feel best answers the question posed by the subject. On a different day, in different conditions I may well have reached a different solution.
The hardest part of the process is the delaying of closure because evolution has programmed us to quickly seek the simplest solution to perceptual problems. The overriding visual assumption we make when we look around us is that our environment is not inherently deceptive. To get past this we have to trick ourselves in to seeing things in a literally ‘new light’. One way of doing this is simply to study your subject for a long time until it no longer seems familiar, so that new relationships and patterns arise in the subject (try staring at any word for long enough and you will see that it suddenly becomes disconnected from its meaning, the ordering of the letters becomes strange and unfamiliar). The photographer Duane Michaels declared that, "I do not believe in the visible. I do not believe in the ultimate reality of automobiles or elevators or the other transient phenomena that constitute the things of our lives... Most photographers believe and accept what their eyes tell them, and the eyes know nothing. The problem is to stop believing what we all believe." Our perception is programmed to look for patterns and to switch off when a plausible solution has been found. For photographers to see something afresh and for this to excite the viewer, the trick is to go beyond the obvious and to embrace the ambiguous. Look hard, think long and only then press the shutter release.
The obvious conclusion to be reached from analyzing the creative process is that there is no single correct approach to making an outstanding photograph. In fact by definition an outstanding image will have arrived at a unique and personal solution to the divergent problem that the subject had posed the photographer. For this reason Edward Weston wrote that “…to consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk. Such rules and laws are deduced from the accomplished fact; they are the products of reflection”.
David Ward is one of Britain's most accomplished large format photographers. He has a very varied knowledge of photography, acquired while working for previous advertising, design and publishing clients. Over the years David has photographed everything from dogs to food to racing cars but landscape photography has always remained his passion.
In recent years he has concentrated his efforts on leading photography workshops for photo tour company Light & Land, taking groups to places as diverse as Utah and Norway. His emphasis in teaching is on the photographer's vision, rather than on what equipment is being used, and he passes on his knowledge in a uniquely humorous and accessible manner. Light & Land runs a broad range of photographic workshops for all levels of photographers – both in the UK and worldwide – full details can be found at http://www.lightandland.co.uk
David has recently hosted Landscape Beyond - a hugely successful exhibition of his work at Londons OXO Tower gallery which was also the launch pad for Davids most recent book of the same title.
All images in this article © David Ward