My first comment is this: I believe B&W landscapes are inherently abstract art. These images immediately depart from reality by removing color. The photographer uses his or her ability to modify light and shadow during the taking, development and printing process to convey the composition as originally visualized. I believe there is no such thing as a "normal" B&W landscape, other than in photojournalism perhaps. Producing a fine B&W landscape requires each stage of the process to be coupled to the original visualization. The result is a substantial abstraction, but if well done, has the appearance of reality to the viewer.

I also believe that exceptional black and white landscape are will cause the viewer to see the actual landscape, permanently, in a new way. I suspect that no one who has seen Adam's Half Dome images sees the real Half Dome in the same way ever again. I know it is the case for me. (OK, so maybe this paragraph is a little over the top, but I do think well executed visions in B&W can really be this impactful.)

OK, I may be about to embark in heresy here, so you are warned. I'd appreciate discussion of the viability of this approach though, since I have not tried it.

If you happened to read my comments in the critique gallery around my Redwood Grove image, you will note that I experimented on how to print this by analyzing the image in Photoshop and exploring various contrast, leveling, dodging and burning approaches on the computer. In this way, I was able to get a better understanding of a very difficult negative before using any chemistry or paper. (As I noted, the negative was so bad that I had not even considered proofing it for 10 years - a decision I regret, after discovering that it was, after all, a very rich image, packaged in a challenging negative).

I think this is a reasonable precursor to entering the darkroom. It allows an efficient method for negative analysis, offering rapid iteration of ideas, the best of which can then be explored traditionally in the darkroom.

Taking this a large step further, one might consider this a solution for working with a commercial printer. Again, I haven't tried this, but what about doing the following, if you don't have your own darkroom (remember that the heresy alert is active):

1. Scan the negative.
2. Do a straight, unaltered print. (Well, only alter sufficiently to account for any scanner-introduced issues that you know would not exist with a printer's proof. This would require some experience with such proofs - perhaps you could calibrate your judgement by getting a printer to do a contact sheet for some of your negatives, then scan them, print them unaltered, and compare.)
3. Edit your image in Photoshop to produce the result you seek. Only use tools that have analog equivalents. Make detailed records of the changes to the image.
4. Mark up versions of the proof and your photoshopped image (either by hand or inside photoshop) with useful data, like original zone info (perhaps show on the proof what you metered and what your intended zone was, and the other expected zones on the proof. Then show on the edited image areas that you lifted, dropped or otherwise altered. Perhaps use lines to indicate the shapes of the areas.
5. Bring this information to the printer and ask for a print along the lines of your edited postscript inkjet print. Specify paper, toning, size, etc. information separately.

Wouldn't this be a more objective way to communicate your original vision to the printer, who otherwise is somewhat of a mind reader?

Thoughts?

-chuck