Art of Intuition

Intuition is defined as the ability to discover truth without reasoning, as knowledge gained by quick apprehension. This is a philosophy that has fallen out of favor in recent times, as the world in general-and photography in particular-have become totally dependent on technology. Careening down this hi-tech highway, with equipment and techniques seeming to become out-of-date within months of introduction, photography seems to be heading towards an antiseptic, soulless goal.

Individuality and intuition

The concept of the individual-in terms of a strong, creative being-has become politically incorrect, as it implies an unfair advantage held by a relatively small group of people. However, there will always be free-willed, imaginative workers in any human endeavor.
In the field of photography, there have always been a handful of people, during any given period, that are recognized as the best in the medium. Occasionally someone will invent a particularly catchy gimmick and will garner a brief attention. However, photographers who steadily produce strong work and don’t rely on a flashy style will continue to dominate their field. They possess a wide array of skills and have mastered the technical aspects of their own style of photography. There is one talent that they all possess that cannot be gauged or quantified, and this immeasurable ability is intuition.

All master photographers have complete technical control over the medium, and after learning their craft, they moved forward into the netherland of instinct. This is a difficult step that requires incredible faith in one’s inner resources. Letting go of the panacea of technology is akin to taking a first step as a toddler, knowing that there will be a fall at some point in the process. After years of studying the myriad technical aspects of the medium, this leap of faith revolves around the photographer willingly putting that learning behind themselves and, in essence, forgetting it. Of course, technique cannot be truly forgotten, but must be forced into the recesses of the mind, only drawing on it after the intuitive process of choosing a composition is complete. Intuition is also an important part of printing, as a normal print may not be right for every composition. Knowing when to sacrifice certain aspects of an image, when emphasize one part of the photo over another, this requires intuition.

Horse and cart

During my tenure as a workshop instructor, I was regularly confronted by a strange phenomenon. Students would often have a deeper technical knowledge than mine, but would regularly choose compositions based on the ease of achieving a final image. It was often impossible to convince them to expose an image based on an emotional reaction to the composition. This step, relying on their intuitive response to any given composition rather than a technical response, was one I seldom convinced many of my students to make. Intuition is a strong individualistic characteristic and cannot be taught. It is possible to develop this trait and it is an idiosyncrasy that, to one degree or another, everyone inherently has. The most difficult lesson in photography involves forgetting everything you have learned-an implication that is frightening but necessary. It requires a suspension of belief and knowledge to make an intuitive leap.

The intuitive process, by definition, is hard to quantify. It is an amorphous subject, difficult to discuss and impossible to teach. It is, however, incredibly important to the creative process, especially in photography because the technical side always threatens to overwhelm the creative aspect. In photographic terms, emotional content is difficult-if not impossible-to achieve if there was no intuitive response to the initial scene. There must be a commitment towards whatever subject is being photographed, and, above all else, there must be an intuitive approach..

Published in AG+ magazine.


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