The Physical Level – the physical object that is the print, the qualities of that print, colour vs black and white, the style of the photographer. It seems to me that confuses his categories a bit, here. It would be tempting to talk just about the physical qualities of the object – the print – but I am interested in screen images, too. However, it might be useful to talk about the conscious decision to make the viewer aware of the medium, like thick brush strokes in a painting, instead of trying to hide it and give you the sense that the photograph is a neutral, objective, scientific window on the world.
The Depictive Level – here he lists the following decisions that are crucial to depiction: vantage point, frame, moment and plane of focus. This category nearly sums up Szarkowski’s book. It also encompasses everything you have to think about to produce conventional architectural photography.
The Mental Level – the photographer makes many choices about focus: lens, eye, attention, mind. It think he is trying to point out that photography can send you thinking or imagining. You don’t just stare at the content or at the forms contained in the frame. A photograph can be a point of departure. Or not.
Mental Modelling – this point is the most relevant one to my research question, so I will quote it in full.
The mental levels genesis is in the photographer’s mental organisation of the photograph
The mental levels genesis is in the photographer’s mental organisation of the photograph. When photographers take pictures, they hold mental models in their minds models that are the result of prodding’s of insight, conditioning, and comprehension of their world.
At one extreme, the model is rigid and ossified, bound by an accumulation of its conditioning: a photographer recognizes only subjects that fit the model, or structures pictures only in accordance with the model. A rudimentary example of this is a mental filter that permits only sunsets to pass through. At the other extreme, the model is supple and fluid, readily accommodating and adjusting to new perceptions.
For most photographers, the model operates unconsciously. But, by making the model conscious, the photographer brings it and the mental level of the photograph under his or her control.
Earlier I suggested that you become aware of the space between you and the page in this book. That caused an alteration of your mental model. You can add to this awareness by being mindful, right now, of yourself sitting in your chair, its back pressing against your spine. To this you can add an awareness of the sounds in your room. And all the while, as your awareness is shifting and your mental model is metamorphosing, you are reading this book, seeing these words – these words, which are only ink on paper, the ink depicting a series of funny little symbols whose meaning is conveyed on the mental level. And all the while, as your framework of understanding shifts, you continue to read and to contemplate the nature of photographs.
He ads the following in an interview with Aperture
If the signature style is something genuine, something inherent, as opposed to a stylization imposed on one’s
work, mental modeling is simply the natural inclination of that photographer. There has been this idea in
photography of previsioning (to use Weston’s term), which is having a mental image of the picture. The image an
experienced photographer has in mind, whether it be conscious or unconscious, can guide all the little decisions that
go into making a picture. It becomes the coordinating factor. With “mental modeling,” I’m talking about making
that conscious, becoming aware of it as an image, and not simply seeing out your eyes like out a window.
Stephen Shore interviewed by Luc Sante
Aperture #185, April 2007