Spring has made way for summer, and with that change come all the rituals and chores that summer brings. Amongst these is the task of maintaining the yard, and specifically, the shrubs.
Now this is something I actually enjoy doing, and have ever since I was a young lad. In fact, I can turn an out of control forsythia or rhododendron into a respectably neat and balanced shape without much concentration. I won’t win Landscaper of the Year, but the neighbors don’t complain either.
I was trimming away just recently, when my mind wandered into an unrelated quadrant, and it occurred to me that what I was doing was a lot like photography.
Wait, “really?” you ask. “Photography?” Yes, really.
How many times do we pick up our cameras with the intention of making images, and do so without much concentration, sort of on autopilot? I don’t mean just pointing and shooting. Sure, we’re familiar enough with our camera’s different shooting modes and can change aperture, shutter speed and ISO, apply exposure compensation, fix white balance, and so on, adjusting our settings as we go, and still be in the zone of only being partially present… like when I’m trimming an azalea.
The results are usually Ok, with some acceptable images, but oftentimes a lot of misses because when we review the results, there’s something lacking… that pop, that drama, that thing that makes you say “Wow”.
As I finished up with the arborvitae and moved on to the euonymus, I thought, well that kind of absent-minded photography is very different from the efforts of, say, a sculptor, who starts with a raw material, (stone, sand, clay), and creates something entirely different from what he started with. What is that process like?
Clearly the sculptor needs vision. And a plan to achieve that vision. And the tools to carry out that plan. And the skills, motivation, and commitment to create something memorable from nothing. Absent all that, his results would be as disappointing as the photographic experience I described above. No wow, no pop, just a lot of wasted time and energy.
The concept is attributed to Ansel Adams, but the term “previsualization” was coined by Minor White. Adams wrote that previsualization is “the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure”. In other words, have the vision first, then figure out how to create it.
Of course, there’s a lot to be said for spontaneity, and some of the best photos are made quickly, without planning, and I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that sometimes we just get lucky.
But the masters, be they photographers, sculptors or those who practice topiary, are not spontaneous when they create, they’re clear on their vision, and they bring it to life with care.
In photography, it could be scoping out a scenic spot in advance, and coming back when the light is “right” and the sky compliments the landscape. And if its not right, waiting until it is. Carefully considering your aperture to achieve the depth of field that you desire, (and knowing what DOF will make the image a winner in the first place). Bracketing, using a tripod and shooting in RAW, so you can bring out the best in your masterpiece. Being patient. You get the idea.
I’m a trimmer more often than a sculptor, but vow to trim less and sculpt more. In fact, the day I had these thoughts, while trimming away during that early summer’s day, I immediately dedicated myself to a higher level of creativity.
This is now in my front yard.
The neighbors have noticed and I’ve heard there’s a petition going around…
So what are you, a trimmer or a sculptor?