Do you have a Mental Model?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by john_a|5, Aug 10, 2011.

  1. Recently I was reading Stephen Shore's "The Nature of Photographs" and came across a passage that expressed something I believe is key in the creative process in a very simple and straightforward way.

    Near the end of the book, a section on Mental Modeling is presented. It suggests that when a photographer makes an image that they hold mental models, the result of proddings of insight, conditioning and comprehension of the world.

    At one extreme this is a very rigid modeling where only subjects that fit that model are recognized--like only sunsets actually pass through the person's filter--and then are made/structured within that model.

    At the other extreme, the model is more fluid and accommodating and adjusts to new perceptions.

    My own sense is that most of us probably don't work at either extreme at all times but find we migrate around--some closer to one end than the other. Some pushing to move towards the more fluid and some content with working in a somewhat more rigid and comfortable manner. Each suiting their needs and desires.

    The book suggests that we all have these mental models and generally apply them unconsciously but that if we bring them forward to consciousness, we can bring this issue into our control.

    I know for myself that I can be out and "recognize" a photograph and this thought akin to the Mental Modeling comes into my mind. That this is something I have seen before and it has passed the "photo worthy test".

    In any case, I thought it was an interesting concept to discuss and wonder how people view this idea and how they see it applying to their own work. I think it might also be interesting to discuss how this affects how we look at others' work as well.
  2. John, just before reading your post, I was taking a nip out of a new book I got on Francis Bacon and thinking about this quote from him: "There is an area, certainly, of intention in an artist's work, but it's an intention related to his own instinctive life, and he doesn't actually know how that instinct is formed. The instinct comes, presumably, from the very moment of his conception, and is gradually worked on by all the things that he sees in life as it passes. In working you are really following this kind of cloud of sensation in yourself, but you don't know what it really is. And it's called instinct, but what instinct is one doesn't know."
    ... anyway, back to work for me ...
  3. I like this quote from Michaelangelo:
    ‘The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.’
    Isn't it the same with photography (or even more so) - the picture is already there, you just have to recognise it, and know how to frame and capture it so that the 'superfluous material' is removed
  4. Julie, I like that quote. I do think that instincts are short circuited though by external factors.
    Chris, funny but your suggestion here is covered in the book as well but as something totally separate--although it certainly is connected within the process. Shore calls what you describe the Depictive Level, where we select, organize and simplify as we create an image. The issue with the Mental Model is the process of how we decide what mess we even think is worth working on--or creating.
  5. "If we bring them forward to consciousness" seems a key to what Shore may be discussing: self awareness. It's a helpful tool. I'm not so sure about "we can bring this issue into our control." One may want to control it, another may want it to control them or even to be free or more out of control. Self awareness can breed acceptance, it can breed control, and it can also breed relinquishment.
    Some pushing to move towards the more fluid and some content with working in a somewhat more rigid and comfortable manner.​
    I'd prefer "focused" to "rigid" and "acceptance" to "contentment" and "comfort." I also think one can push themselves to work in a more focused ("rigid" is too prejudicial to me) way. It doesn't have to be the more passive approach. And some accept fluidity (it isn't always pushed for) which, regarding subject matter (you bring up sunsets) may simply be a scattered or flailing and random approach as opposed to something "fluid."
    What I am aware of in myself is that I am more inclined to setup photos than recognize them. Though in the process of setting up, I am often surprised by things I will recognize on the spot that will make a great photo and I am also prone to accidents even in the midst of setups.
    My own self awareness tells me to honor my own instinctual [thanks, Julie] sense of order and logic while still striving to be a little more in-the-moment and even haphazard.
  6. John,
    A question which is highly appropriate, yet one which we often have trouble coming to terms with in our own approaches. Somewhere, between Julie's innate and often inherited instinctive model and the subconscious but acquired mental model you discuss, is the basis for our aesthetic of vision, for the way in which we react to viewing and recomposing (selecting, assembling, etc.) the physical world about us.
    Why does John A or Julie H perceive his or her surroundings as he or she does? In addition to some innate instinct, we seem to have built within ourselves your subconscious mental model, what I would prefer to call an acquired repertory of mental image building blocks (not precise blocks, but various aesthetically determining mini-models) that are brought to bear, together with other more immediate emotions or thoughts, to perceive and then form the image. The background provided by this often subconscious mental model may be quite important, but also not to be ignored is the mental model we construct as a consequence of our own approach and that is often based upon the theme or subject matter we might be viewing, or desiring to perceive (to construct) and form into a photograph.
    At the far end of the spectrum, I am sometimes much more deterministic in developing a specific mental model, as I theatrically prepare the subject matter for whatever creation I may seek. I have often brought other elements into a scene or subtracted some, waited for the right lighting (to detail, highlight, or to obscure parts of the image), waited patiently, or tried to control, the position and expressions of the human or animal subjects, or staged other static or dynamic elements which corresponded to a largely (but not entirely, fluidity and sublimation are important to the result) preconceived mental model of the particular creation.
    This latter and specific mental model sits at the other end of the chain of subconscious and conscious mental models that we possess and bring to bear on most of our work (recognising of course the beauty of accidents, although the approach to those accidents may not be completely arbitrary of direction…). Your question is nonetheless more complex than what I am able to address in these first thoughts, so I look forward to the reaction of others and I also hope later to better clarify my further thoughts about your OP.
  7. You cannot not have a mental model. You photograph what you are.
  8. Vilk, your portfolio really bears a looking at. I think it shows how you view the world and others, but do you think it displays an indication of who or what you are, or just one small aspect of that, of how you view and how you aesthetically and socially compose the world about you? Yes, there is an overlap or complicity between the two, but I am not sure our approach (mental model thereof) is usually very revealing of who or what we really are (only quite marginally, not in toto).
  9. Fred, just to clarify, I used rigid because that was the sentiment that Shore was using--rigid and ossified were his words. I think focus takes it into a different realm--which can certainly come into play in all of this but a different idea than what Shore was presenting. Shore is trying to suggest that Mental Modeling can preclude us from actual seeing things around us because we are so rigid in what we recognize as a photograph or photo worthy--I don't even think it has to relate to photography specifically. My use of "content" was a nod to the fact that many are "accepting" or just plain happy/content with what they are doing even when others may see it as rigid or ossified.
    My own feeling is that Mental Modeling is probably not just a linear line but has more dimensions to it. Adding the extra dimensions changes it a bit though. In my thought about this expanded role, I do think Mental Modeling might actually serve us in some situations. I also think that most people "recognize" a photo when they see it--maybe one's that fit into their criteria or even ones they know others would make if they were there--even when the image is one that is constructed or built. I think that most probably don't see every opportunity that actual crosses their path--there will always be things that fall outside of our interest because we are focused on something else or are not seen because they just fall out of our idea of what makes a photograph. This means that we didn't consciously pass on something but just that we didn't even see it. This can be driven home rather specifically when one is out photographing with someone else in the same place and later share their work and discover each saw things the other didn't--for better or worse, it's just that neither even SAW what the other photographed.
  10. John, then Shore's is a prejudiced view, which is what I suspected, if you're presenting him accurately. In suggesting that it's a continuum with two extremes, he paints one extreme in a much more positive light than the other. The extreme of "rigidity" vs. the extreme of "fluidity". And fluidity is something we push toward whereas rigidity is something that breeds complacency. I don't buy that. I think it's a false dichotomy, first of all. And if it is a dichotomy even worth considering, he sets it up for one to be better than the other, which I think is wrong.
    "Only subjects that fit that model are recognized -- sunsets --" is at the ossified end of the spectrum. Really? Is HCB ossified because he "rigidly" adhered to street work (his sunsets)? Was Avedon ossified because he "rigidly" emphasized portrait work (his sunsets)? I think they would fall on the "subjects that fit the model are recognized" end of the spectrum, yet neither of them seem particularly content with comfort in their work. And it's well and good to pronounce that subjects that don't fit a certain model is evidence of fluidity, but it could just be and often is merely a scattered and random, thoughtless approach.
    What I'm saying is that I don't think rigidity or fluidity has to do with whether or not we recognize subjects that fit a model. I think it has to do with how we handle those subjects no matter how we recognize them and no matter how wide or narrow that recognition may be.
    Perhaps we'd call Blossfeldt's flowers a fairly narrow recognition of subjects that were fitting a model. There's nothing stagnant or ossified about it.
  11. Note: I meant that a more rigid or fixed Mental Model can actually serve us if we look at it as something that is broader than just a fixed point on the continuum. I am think, as one example, how one might approach a certain type of photographic assignment and the specific needs of a client. In such cases, creating a generic, industry standard image will actually be better than creating an artistic masterpiece that you might have been able to create--or did as you constructed the more banal image. The trick, I think, is whether you could see what could have been or did you only see that more banal, generic image possibility.
    In some ways, this conditioning Shore talks about is what advertising at its best can do. Have you ever looked at a print or TV ad and before you see who it is for, you already know it just from its form? That is successful conditioning by the ad agency--eventually it is copied--Nike was unique but now almost everyone uses similar devices that once defined their brand.
  12. Fred, I think you are missing the point really--just my opinion. I almost used Avedon as an example of your "focused" as where I believe what Shore is saying and what you are saying are in different playing fields. Choosing to make a certain type of photo doesn't mean you don't see something else or recognize something else or appreciate what others are doing. Choosing to make street images is different than not being able to see a sunset or a studio portrait as a photographic possibility. Shore also stresses that the extreme includes "then are made/structured within that model" or if you will they become formulaic. Those you mentioned certainly have a style, but I would suggest that that isn't what Shore is describing. If you look at the work of Shore or those he admires, they all work in specific sorts of areas, sometimes moving into new areas over long periods of time while others have been doing pretty much the same sort of thing for a very long time.
    I didn't really read Shore as making any sort of a value judgement, he just suggested that if we make our actions more conscious then we can take control of it. I see this as awareness of what we are doing, which in some cases will create a more broad view and in others might just clarify that one has a specific "thing".
  13. "In any case, I thought it was an interesting concept to discuss and wonder how people view this idea and how they see it applying to their own work." (John A.)
    John, as a photographer with a personal idea of mental model, that is how I have adressed this questiion. How it applies to advertising or to the approaches of Avedon or Shore I will leave to the scholars of their work. I believe you wanted to know how we, as forum members and active photographers, view the question, and not debate the supposed ideas of the referenced person in your OP. In any way, for what it is worth to the conversation that is how I interpreted your request. It doesn't seem clear that you want our take on what a mental model means to us or rather you want our appreciation of another's (Shore's) viewpoint.
  14. I think this question has to do with investment. Or, a sexier term would be jealousy.
    To move, I must make a choice. Once I make a choice, I am invested; it entails expenditure. Given that, I am loth to get nothing for my investment and I defend it.
    I imagine myself to be wonderfully open-minded about photographs and photography. Yet if you show me somebody else's composite (which is what I do), I suddenly become a spitting, hissing, nit-picky red-eyed monster of competitive nastiness. The nearer a fellow photographer's work is to mine, the more critical I am. Naturally, I like to think that I am fully justified in my reaction because I am an expert at what I do. However ...
    An analogy. A person gets married. Then he/she starts looking around, comparing his choice to those of other people. He/she can either defend his own choice/investment (commit to his Mental Model) or he can be promiscuous and sample the field in spite of his marriage (have a more fluid, less committed Mental Model). Or ... third option ... he can work on the nature of his original Mental Model, developing it to be something better. He does not give it up, he improves it. Is that fluid or rigid? It is committed.
  15. It doesn't seem clear that you want our take on what a mental model means to us or rather you want our appreciation of another's (Shore's) viewpoint.​
    Arthur, I think what I was hoping for was a discussion of the Model that Shore presents and how one sees its effect on the creative process. So, I guess I wasn't looking for people's take on what a mental model means to them but how the principle Shore presents as "Mental Model" works in their creative endeavors--how they deal with it.
    Personally, I think it is a very complex mechanism and I even wonder if we can completely control it--even if we can get to base instinctual levels. I do think self awareness is a big step but should we even expect to ever be totally fluid or will our perceived fluidity always be constrained by some parameters that keep us from seeing all that is before us.
    I also wonder if we can't possibly have two levels of this working. One we apply when we are working--that which determines the kind of images we make--while the other we employ when looking at others' work. I question that these can be totally separate and non-interfering, but do think one can have a broader view of the visual one can appreciate versus what one "can" make (certainly broader than what one "desires" to make)--or maybe I just wonder if that is actually the case.
  16. John, my apologies if I misunderstood the thrust of your OP. I will read the Shore statement. Perhaps we apply a different mental model when looking at the work of other photographers and art in general and if so, it may well be due to our own preconceptions related to our photographic approach and our history of that. Conditioning, or perhaps a rut in some cases, which may not relate to how we view, less personally, the works of others.
  17. I actually discovered a small passage I hadn't seen before at the end of the book that explains where I think he was going. I say "discovered" because the way the book is structured--not a lot of writing and many pages of photos between--I thought the writing was done. Anyway, on the last page there was a statement to this effect when one is not working more fluidly:

    One's perceptions feed into one's mental model--the model adjusts to accommodate the perception which modify the photographic decisions and thus the original perception--go back to the beginning and repeat.

    Essentially a feedback loop which sounds like maybe compromise--meeting somewhere in the middle between the original perception and original mental model but growth in the latter from the initial point--although I suppose it could also move in a new direction as well or even continue perceptual expansion.

    This particular process seems be in opposition to Wessel's idea of responding to perception before one identifies or codifies what one is seeing-- this video I referred to elsewhere.
    and maybe more like what Jeff Wall discusses as his process which seems to be the polar opposite to Wessel's. But it also may be sitting between the two and could bias either way depending on how it's applied.
  18. I mistakenly said "when one is not working more fluidly" at the end of the first paragraph and meant "when one is working more fluidly"--sorry!
  19. John,
    In regard to your subject of fluidity, I find in my own work (not just photography), and in my everyday reasoning, that iteration is a common mechanism I adhere to. While I may have a specific mental model for my activity, and sometime what seem to be well packaged thoughts (something I am also inclined to mistrust or question), I find myself playing with these concepts in a sort of trial and error manner, subjecting them to mental re-analysis and review, before deciding on the ultimate course. Of course this can happen in discussion with other colleagues working on a similar or same project or concept, but also within my own mind (personal mental model).
    The shutter is clicked after the mental model has finally been retuned (by this process of iteration, by new stimuli received or acted upon during the process, and the like).
    Incidentally, I think your OP is a very good one and really deserving of more discussion, within or without the context of Shore's opinion/statements.
  20. The more I have thought about this, the more I think what Shore is discussing in the concept he is presenting are those involuntary limits (filters) that are imposed on us. My sense is that we are in fact, in the process Shore describes, looking to soften or eliminate filters down to a minimum. It might be easy to confuse the filters of the Mental Model with one's focus, choice and style--or even intent or vision. All of these are important but all of them do involve conscious decisions even if style is or can be largely innate. With style, we do make some conscious decisions and can consciously override or embellish it with an intent to do so. These filters are more involuntary limitations.

    But with a more open and fluid Mental Model, we are more adaptive within our areas of focus or style to see new things and to maybe present them in new ways. To keep growing and moving forward. The filters sort of plant us where we are. In other parts of our lives, they may also act to protect us, which is a good thing. But in the creative space, I don't thing we want limits we don't control. A landscape photographer may have no interest in street photography but that doesn't preclude them from seeing interesting street scenes. Choosing to not photograph them doesn't preclude the admiration of those shot by others.
  21. Incidentally, I think your OP is a very good one and really deserving of more discussion, within or without the context of Shore's opinion/statements.​
    Arthur, I understand that this forum is pretty free flowing and that is a good thing but sometimes there can, and maybe should, be a different approach. Digression is always good, but a discussion can lose its value if we all define the words we use, the same words, in different ways. Digressions can then lose their meaning or seem pretty random if they aren't related to the OP. Most of the threads in this forum are open ended and maybe--obviously--that is more what the participants like or care to participate in. In this case, a specific concept was offered up for discussion as common ground for discussion and digression to related topics.
    Apparently, that doesn't work well in this forum.
  22. "In any case, I thought it was an interesting concept to discuss and wonder how people view this idea and how they see it applying to their own work. I think it might also be interesting to discuss how this affects how we look at others' work as well."
    (OP, last paragraph)
    John, I understand the route you wish to take in the discussion, but do reflect on the quite apparent openness of the question and suggestion of the last paragraph of your original post, to which some of us have attempted to address.
    It has been my experience, here in PofP forum, and elsewhere (particularly in the work context), that if one wishes to confine a discussion to specifics it is necessary to introduce those specifics quite precisely and not generally. Shore's thoughts are seemingly not unique and your OP has triggered a reflection on thios topic by the posters. I maintain my thought that this subject be pursued here or elsewhere in future, as it is at the core of what we do.​
  23. The concept of "waiting images" (See Baudrillard- or don't) seems similar to "mental model". Wandering along life's course your pictures appear. You are the subject. Rather than explicit pictures they are more a repertoire of themes, or a meta structure. As a body of work grows the problem of personal authenticity enters. Without personal themes you will only mimic in a dabbler's scattered way. Originality, often confused with creativity, isn't required. Searching for something new under the sun just impedes growth. Repetition should be viewed as growth. You reach plateaus, not get in ruts. Life's normal course, a work in progress, should take care of that.
    The roles of subject and object become confused. If you are the subject of your mental model, is a reflexive reflective image of yourself a good thing? Baudrillard found the expression etched in auto mirrors fitting: ""Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear."
  24. John, I only came to this OP when it now seems to be ending. I agree with you that discussions like these often go in all possible and impossible directions. One of the reasons why we always seem to touch at one or several interesting observations, that each one of us can choose according to likings.
    I agree with your interest in Stephen Shore's "The Nature of Photographs" and his highlighting of "mental models". I have not read the book and would not know how Shore understands "mental models", but according to the widespread use of the term in psychology it is not something you can choose to have or not have. As far as I understand the term (I might be wrong), every individual forms mostly unconsciously an ever evolving "mental model" by the daily adding of (self-)experience and knowledge throughout life. We all have, whether we like it or not, mental models, one of the reasons we are all different. The result is of course that we, as photographers, "see" differently our surroundings and consequently shoot photos differently - unless we, very consciously, try to ape photos of others, as a technical, artistic exercise. Copying is also in photography an important means of learning, just like in other arts.
    I noticed that Alan mentioned the "confusion" about the use of "creativity" and "originality". It is probably another OP.
    I agree that you can certainly be extremely creative and yet produce something your neighbor already produced yesterday and therefore not at all, anymore, "original", beause it exists already.
    In arts "Creativity" would mostly, I think, be the basis for any "original" work of art. However, if one goes back to some of the catchwords/terms we all use when discussing in this forum, terms like: open mindedness, thinking out of the box; taking artistic and technical risk; accumulating knowledge on arts and photography; increasing consciousness; maintaining vivid "intrigueness" of the world; curiosity; flexibility of the mind etc etc. - in my eyes ,none of these elements of the artistic process of photographers are linked to either creativity or originality, but to both in one way or another.
  25. Anders, most of Shore's words are in the OP, some paraphrased, but the section on the Mental Model explanation is very brief. In fact, the whole book is light on words but hits salient points for further discussion or study.
    unless we, very consciously, try to ape photos of others, as a technical, artistic exercise.​
    I actually think that a lot of this copying is done subconsciously as well and maybe gets us to the point about mental models. We may perceive the world differently but by various conditionings, we end up expressing the world very similarly. Unless we try to understand and work with/control our mental model, we make images a certain way--a more stilted or predictable way--than if we interact with the perception and the structures we hold. Mental Models can dictate how we respond to our perceptions, reordering it, when we aren't aware of them or if we are aware of them, our model can bend or expand to something different for what we currently perceive.
    Of course, all of this assumes that part of our structure is a desire to be more responsive or understand that we could be.
  26. Something Sally Mann once wrote in the preface to one of her books sticks with me (I don't have it with me so can't quote it,) but roughly she said that she values and utilizes the unexpected and accidental in her work, and I constantly try and emulate this approach to shooting. I try to be in as much technical and conceptual control as I can be when starting a project, but ultimately I like something else to take over - I like to learn and see what is revealed. If I am shooting primarily to match a set or even dynamic mental model of what has already been done it gets pretty uninspiring very quickly. I ultimately credit the Creator with instilling the creative instinct in me, and so I feel that it's my job to go as far as I can on my own instincts, but that my best work - those truly rare photographs - will be so because there is something taking it a step further without my intention - it is best when the work is just slightly out of my control because that's when I see things that freshen and inspire my understanding of what photography can be.
  27. Anders, "I agree that you can certainly be extremely creative and yet produce something your neighbor already produced yesterday and therefore not at all, anymore, "original", because it exists already."​
    The amazing thing I keep discovering is that everything has already been done! I was thinking of creativity most often written about in popular art journals and How To books - the "art" treatment suggestions. The too pretentious, "arty" kind of stretch is always apparent to me when I'm trying too hard to be original. Seeking novelty for its own sake is a trap. There are plenty of alternate (to your usual mind-set) kinds of creative thinking that are productive.
  28. "The writer and I plan out the entire script down to the smallest detail, and when we're finished all that's left to do is to shoot the film. Actually, it's only when one enters the studio that one enters the area of compromise. Really, the novelist has the best casting since he doesn't have to cope with the actors and all the rest.
    Once the screenplay is finished, I'd just as soon not make the film at all... I have a strongly visual mind. I visualise a picture right down to the final cuts. I write all this out in the greatest detail in the script, and then I don't look at the script while I'm shooting. I know it off by heart, just as an orchestra conductor needs not look at the score... When you finish the script, the film is perfect. But in shooting it you lose perhaps 40 percent of your original conception."
    --Alfred Hitchcock, from an interview with Roger Ebert in 1969​
    Hitchcock is known as one of the most rigid film directors. That's rigidity in terms of approach to his work (which is somewhat different than the mental models Shore is discussing but interesting nonetheless). Ironically, it's a case (and this is often the case with artists) where the method actually belies the results. The rigid methodology goes toward creating a very fluid and in-the-moment result. Though Hitchcock left little to chance or spontaneity, when we view his films we can't help but ride a wave, be on the edge of our seats, and experience the moments as they unfold.
    The moral of that part of the story, to me, is that how an artist works does not necessarily correspond to how his work appears to the viewer and the viewer might very well not guess how the artist worked just from seeing the work itself.
    Now, admittedly there is a difference between this discussion of Hitchcock's methodology and Shore's talk about being stifled by mental models, or one's pre-conceived notions of how things should be. But, here too, I would question Shore. It is often the artists with the most strongly-held opinions and tastes, mental models that overtake their very being, who produce the most compelling and transformative works. These rigid mental models can be very much owned by great artists. They are driven by them, often obsessed by them. And they are driven to realize these sometimes extremely rigid and defined mental models through their medium. It's in the realization that the results we see occur. The rigidity of the mental model may very well be creatively or artistically expressed or transformed by and through its realization through craft, through the act of MAKING.
    "Seeking novelty for its own sake is a trap." --Alan​
    Yes. Very important and observant point. A good photographer and artist absorbs his influences and makes them his own. Creativity, for me, has more to do with allowing myself to be an individual and to get personal than worrying about coming up with something new. If I can show the world something quite familiar but with a Fred twist, or from a Fred perspective, I have expressed something significant.
    Bad artists copy. Good artists steal. --Pablo Picasso​
    Implied in "steal" is making it your own! IMO, It's OK to have either fluid or rigid mental models. As long as they're genuinely YOURS.
  29. These rigid mental models can be very much owned by great artists. They are driven by them, often obsessed by them.​
    Fred, I think this is the very area where we seem to have a very different idea of the mental model. I see a rigid mental model as a limiting factor to expression and can preclude discovery or adaptability and even the ability to see brilliance before us. When I read your interpretation here, I interpret it as focus and intent and vision which are certainly important elements in the creation of great work but different to what I see as the Mental Model. With that interpretation, I am fully on board with what you are saying.
  30. Fred said:
    A good photographer and artist absorbs his influences and makes them his own. Creativity, for me, has more to do with allowing myself to be an individual and to get personal than worrying about coming up with something new.​
    I’m completely on board with this. One way to look at a mental model is to see it as the individual differences that make us unique. No one can see the world as I do and vice versa, hence, different “mental models.” I realize as Fred says, that I incorporate things that I have seen, things that please me, so my mental model is influenced in some way by that. When I do pick up a camera, I become very “visual” and I don’t have much awareness of thoughts. I trust my mental models are at work guiding my work. When things look “right” I take the photo. I don’t try to analyze what constitutes this rightness, but it simply feels strongly like the right arrangement of visual elements. Other people may have different methods and experiences, of course. We are all different.
  31. Interesting Steve, thanks. Actually, to be honest, when things look "right" to me, I often do something else. That's just my own lack of experience and knowing that I fall into habits easily. So, sometimes, I actually get a better photo when I feel a little wrong, a little uncomfortable, push myself to veer. On the other hand, like you're describing, sometimes it just seems like it can't be any other way, and then I will honor that. For me, it's not just that we each have different methods and experiences. It's that each photo seems to demand its own method and experience. (Sometimes rigid, sometimes fluid, sometimes instinctual, sometimes much more thoughtful and plodding.) That's why it's so exhilarating.
  32. As far as I see it, the way Shore uses the term "mental model" is wrong and misunderstood - and that may exactly be why it is interesting reading. Things are indeed sometimes "right" when they are slightly or completely wrong. That's why we notice them and they catch our eye. If they were plain, commonly and boringly "right", they would not call our attention. Consequently, as photographers, we would not shoot such banalities - and if we did, we would probably not show it to others.
    To understand such obvious contradictions, one has of course to clarify what is meant by terms like "right" or "wrong". Shore is "wrong" when using the term "mental models", because the term comes from psychology, where it means something else than what Shore uses it for. On the other hand, he is right in using the term wrongly because it suttonly becomes interesting and ended even up in this OP apart from having inspired thousands of readers of his short text.
    If "mental models" are used in the way Shore proposes, then they describe some kind of "life project" of an artist, something the artist try to express or to disrespect. Such "mental models", as far as I see them, are "reference points" for artistic work, which are linked to the personality and life situation and history of the person. Some artist, surely, are totally at ease reproducing their "mental model" over a period of time (Picasso's blue period or his cubism; Pollock's abstracts etc) but most artists would challenge their "mental model" of a period of their life to emerge with different and new challenging "models" (as Picasso did repeatably throughout his life and Pollock did not have the time to do more than maybe once). Within each such period, things are made when they are "right". Between models, things are made when they are slightly or totally "wrong". Nothing is afterwards then "wrong" in doing things "right".
    In my eyes, if we force things to be "wrong", just for he joy of the provocation, it would equal a party-game of the moment.
    I might be "wrong" or "right"!
    To quote today's Huffington post, we can all be foxes or hedgehogs when pursuing mental models: "the fox will "pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way." In contrast, the hedgehog offers an "unchanging, all embracing... unitary inner vision." (in fact a quote from the philosopher Isaiah Berlin)
  33. Anders states:
    If "mental models" are used in the way Shore proposes, then they describe some kind of "life project" of an artist, something the artist try to express or to disrespect.​
    This is perhaps something like Miles Davis "inventing" Cool Jazz, as a new model for the jazz form of music. But within all jazz playing is the primary element of improvisation. Interesting, because for me using a camera is most like improvising with an instrument. I have developed my "chops" over the years so I don't have to think about the technical things and I am free to improvise with light and form, which is what it feels like to me. I don't like to set things up, but prefer to use available light and to document a real situation. During improvisation, one is "flowing" within the moment, often being surprised with what happens and what results. I much prefer that to setting up a studio, which for some people is what is interesting and challenging.
  34. Humans perform pattern recognition. It is only natural that we create models for the images we capture, or that we are influenced by what we have seen. Having seen, also allows us to know what has not yet been seen.
  35. I hadn't been actively taking photos for quite some time until I recently got my hands on a DSLR a couple of months ago. As a personal challenge to myself and a way to jump-start my return to photography, I started a photo a day project ( After a few weeks, I noticed that there are some definite patterns or preferences or themes or whatever term you'd prefer in the photos that I've been taking: I respond to patterns, even when they are quite abstract, for example, and I like to photograph them; also, I have yet to have made any photos of landscapes. Some of these choices have to do with where I live and the things I see on a daily basis, but some clearly have to do with what we might think of as my mental model. I suspect that many of us, if we look back over the totality of our work (or even a solid cross-section of it) might find that there are themes or recurring graphic elements or somesuch that stand out. But, as always, your mileage may vary.
    Personally, I'm trying to make an effort to expand that model to include more and more different types of subject matter and compositional strategies and so on, but there will probably still be some distinguishing feature of the photos that I make. And I'll just call that my style.

Share This Page