Technical Aspects of Visualization
Lecture By Minor White
Philip Hyde’s 1947 Class Notes
California School Of Fine Arts, Now The San Francisco Art Institute
Photography Program Founded By Ansel Adams, Minor White Lead Instructor
(Continued from the blog post, “San Francisco Art Institute Photography History 14.”)
Landscape Photography Blogger Note:
(View the photograph large: “Bleached Juniper Trunk, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite.”)
Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Minor White were all proponents of visualization or pre-visualization as it is sometimes called. Ansel Adams wrote about visualization, as did Minor White to some extent. However, few, if any, of their students ever published any lecture notes sharing the contents of lectures on the subject. Here for what is likely the first time ever published, are the notes from star photography student Philip Hyde on a lecture by Minor White during the summer session, on August 19, 1947. Today is Minor White’s birthday. He was born on July 9, 1908.
Half way through the class lecture in 1947, Minor White shifted into a technical discussion regarding film density, exposure, the Zone System, film testing, tonal reproduction, tonal separation, contrast control by underdevelopment, various aspects of darkroom processing, waterbath formulas, and other details of film darkroom photography. The purpose of the lecture was to applying darkroom post-processing tools to carry out and complete the process of visualization as begun at the point of exposure in the field with the camera. This technical discussion consisted mainly of graphs and charts that do not apply to today’s digital photography and in some cases not even to today’s film photography. This complex portion of Minor White’s lecture is omitted here, for the most part, with some portions summarized, leaving us with the non-technical core of the subject.
These lecture notes are presented here mainly as a historical record, more than for teaching or learning purposes, though they may serve the latter two purposes as well, with certain readers. More on the theory and philosophy of visualization will follow in future articles and blog posts. Yet this lecture, may put into perspective how relatively easy making good photographs has become, due to technology replacing many of the processes mentioned below. Photoshop is certainly not simple, nor do we now merely press one button that eliminates all visual distractions and turns our images into artistic masterpieces, as many uninformed people seem to believe. Nonetheless, the lecture below puts into perspective the level of diligence involved in darkroom black and white photography. Which of these two post-processing methods do you feel took more skill? Or if the skills are different, how do they compare?
Technical Aspects of Visualization Lecture By Minor White
Philip Hyde’s Notes August 19, 1947
Visualization is the basis of creative photography as taught at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) photography school. Visualization is simply visualizing, imagining in the mind, the final print while looking at the scene you are photographing. The approach to applying visualization is to place tones on a scale, in the 10 gradations of tone in the Zone System and internalizing the relationship of exposure to development taking into consideration the relationship between exposure and density of the film being used.
Any tone in nature can be reproduced with exposure control exactly as is with normal development. This is considered a normal exposure to development relationship. The relationship of tones remains the same with normal development. Less than normal development will compact the relationship, that is, it will compact the scale of tones. More than normal development will stretch the scale.
A full-scale print is one in which all the values of the 10 Zone scale are present including white and black, Zones 0-9. When exposure is graphed against density, there is a portion of the curve at the beginning, or toe, where the curve gradually increases steepness. This toe portion of the curve is preferred for enlargement, but can cause loss of accuracy of tonal relationships in darker areas. The curve then straightens out. This part of the curve is where tonal reproduction is accurate. The top, or shoulder, of the curve, where it gradually decreases steepness, is the least desirable for photographic enlargement and printing.
The lightest Zones, Zones I, II and III are on the toe portion of the graph and will be less dense than expected. Contrast can be controlled by underdevelopment. This must be determined by testing of the film to see whether upper or lower values will contrast more and in what relation to development. When lower values are in the toe, they can suffer serious loss of tonal quality. A good waterbath helps to increase separation in the lower tones, or the toe of the curve(s) and decreases or diminishes this effect in the upper Zones. Testing is done with a gradated step wedge.
Lens testing is also related to the success or failure of visualization efforts. Testing lenses determines the differences between theoretical and actual light transmission, due to flare, aberrations in the lens and technique of the photographer.