When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.
-Albert Einstein

I have come to believe that my job, why I was put on this earth, is to tell the truth and see the pretty. My job is to walk all over the planet and allow myself to be taken by the moment and to record the truth, beauty and moments of abandon with a camera. Interesting work if you can get it. What I discovered is so long as I stay on this path I (mostly) stay out of trouble. What I have also discovered is that coincidence is the universe's attempt at remaining anonymous. I live in a world where my fantasy as a child has come true, to make my living creating art. To make one's living solely from being a visual artist is to experience life as if you are in a waking dream only to find yourself waking up into a deeper dream.

This story starts with being asked in 2012 by the director of the Palm Beach Photographic Centre. "Hey, would you like to teach a five day travel workshop in Cuba?" As you can imagine it was a difficult decision to make, requiring much time and consideration⦠Roughly about the length of time it takes to say "HELL YES."

For those of us who grew up in the 1960's, Cuba has always been a great fascination. A forbidden place trapped in a time warp. Cigars, Rum, The Kennedys, the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Black September airplane hijackings landing at the Havana Airport – all the way to today and Guantanamo Bay. So to be afforded an opportunity to enter Cuba legally in 2012 something not to say no to.

The issue that I did not know then, but discovered later, was that on my first trip to Cuba I was about to break one of the few dogmas I have: Do not walk into a shoot with any preconceptions. That the only thing you should visualize preconceiving is to prepare to be amazed by every little thing around you.

Ansel Adams said, "Without pre-visualization photography is a five finger exercise." Paul Caponigro said, "If you believe in pre-visualization you deserve what you get." Who's right? They both are. What is at issue is not whether to pre-visualize or to not pre-visualize. The issue is the misconception between pre-conception and pre-visualization and the very, very, very fine line as to when to start the visualization process.

From the moment I was asked to the time I left I allowed myself to become a victim of entropy. I allowed my pre-conception of what I thought Cuba should be to color and affect what Cuba is. During the first time I was there I kept finding myself having a running dialog about, "How this isn't right⦠This is supposed to be like this." Don't get me wrong, I had a great time; I just didn't realize it until I got home. Somehow I had allowed myself to be looking for the moment rather than letting myself be taken by the moment.

Simply put Ansel Adams broke the creation of an image process down this way:

1)  The need/desire to photograph
2)  Discovery
3)  Visualization
4)  Execution

The first is fairly obvious, "The need/desire to photograph," either you are on assignment (the gig) or you are where you are because you want to be there with a camera. The second, "Discovery," for me is the moment when the picture takes you (not the other way around) and you are pulled through the lens and the impulse to click the shutter is driven by being grabbed by the moment.  The third, "Visualization," is the one step in the process that tends to do us in, and if you do not take care, you do indeed get what you deserve. The time you should pre-visualize is after the moment has taken you. Not before and not during. At that moment, after being taken by the picture, is when you should be thinking about what else you need to make the image successful. It is this, that is the catalyst for "execution." Why this is is because the speed of life moves much faster today behind the digital camera then it did back in Ansel's day behind the film camera with all of the considerations you need to make at point of capture. As to the speed of the thrill of photographing life? That speed remains the same, both faster than, as well as slower than, we as photographers are often capable of moving.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wasn't exactly happy with of my images from my first trip to Cuba, my image capture take for me was very low, I was frustrated with the experience and I did not know why. I mean it was Havana for goodness sake! It wasn't until I was sitting with Jay Maisel showing him my images that he pointed out something to me, which was this: I was in my images. That I took them and not the other way around. That I had pre-conceived a vision and imposed that on the place and made my images fit the pre-conception.

Did I mention that coincidence is the universe's attempt at remaining anonymous? I walked away from that conversation with the dream of going back to Cuba. So in July of 2014 the director of PBPC asked me if I wanted to go back to Cuba in December and would I be interested in going again in 2015. Lightning does not often strike twice in the same place. Next thing I knew I found myself going to Cuba three times over 15 weeks.

This time I let the place take me. I did not focus on politics or what I thought I should be shooting. I just walked the streets with my students and allowed the spirit of the place and the people to take charge. I gave in and gave up to simply being. The outcome of this is a 103-image gallery exhibition and an additional 200 plus "keeper" images I have yet to post process.

Soooo⦠My point is this: Don't think about the image before the image happens. Don't go into the moment with a belief of what you expect to see, just go in and see what there is to see. Don't worry about not taking any images, if they are there for you to take they will find you if you slow down enough to let them land on you. The baggage that you carry with you should be left in the hotel room with your luggage when go out to shoot.

If you still feel the need to pre-visualize before you pick up the camera, just fantasize this: I am about to be amazed by every little thing around me.

Vincent Versace
Nikon Ambassador: United States

Cuba Slide Show

Walk Through of Show

Cuba Exhibition at Palm Beach Photographic Centre

You can see more of Vincent’s work at VersacePhotography.com, and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Instagram.

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8 Comments

  1. Vincent, I want to thank you so much for sharing this. Your slideshow was a perfect way for me to start my day. I really loved the images and how you see the world. It reminded me in a very great and fun way that we are given so many visual gifts every day if we will just slow down, look, and actually see them (they are gifts whether we photograph them or not) The music was a perfect fit and now I cannot get it out of my head. Can you share the musician’s name with me?

  2. I was thinking as I watched the video is Mr. Versace going to save the best for last, you did. I also liked to see there are people like me who are not afraid to do a ten minute slideshow. Fantastic images.

  3. Vincent, it appears that in addition to “telling the truth and seeing the pretty,” your purpose in being on this is to inspire those fortunate enough to be exposed to your beautiful images and clearly expressed views. I’m finding my “need/desire to photograph” greatly and I mean GREATLY increased by reading this and watching the slideshow! Rainy day in Utah . . . no problem! Where’s my IR camera, feel the need to be dragged through the lens. Thanks for the inspiration!

  4. Pure. Genius. Thank you, Vincent, for giving me the freedom of Discovery.

  5. Your post-processing has to be some of the most realistic and sensitively executed to make it onto the web. (here and elsewhere) Love the depth in 2 women shots. Where’s your deepest passion – color or mono, or is equal footing ? Great read…

  6. Vincent – Thanks for this post. It helps me, I think. Where it doesn’t–and that’s the next hypothesis I’ll test–is exploring after my pre-visualization. Let me explain via example. I took a studio lighting class from the School of Art at my favorite university. That meant I had to establish the items to photograph, create a set, and light as I pre-visualized. Worked fine…except it wasn’t enough as I didn’t get all of the satisfaction I wanted from the pre-visualized images. So I began to “explore the space”, which meant at least re-doing the lighting, moving image elements, etc. until I was happy. The translation to your experience is to not let the pre-visualiztion be the stopping point and then being satisfied. That’s what I’m working on, especially with street photography (e.g., photowalks and just walking-watching as I experience new places). So my mantra, so to speak is: guess what I’ll see (discover?) and shoot it; THEN discover, visualize, and execute per your list. The need to photograph? It’s always there! Again, thanks.

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