Abstract Photography

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by ducksquat, Apr 8, 2004.

  1. I'm a relatively new photographer wanting to be more than just an
    average "amateur" but a serious "amateur." As a Web designer, I just
    think the skill would certainly enhance my work and I'd get more
    gratification that using stock photos. Having said that, I'm
    intrigued by abstact works. I've seen many photographs of abstracts
    that simply have me muttering to myself, "Huh? What the..." and
    others that indeed invoke some sort of emotion.

    What do you fine folks suggest I do in working towards a better eye
    for abstracts and what do you feel separates just any photo from one
    that is truly provocative?
  2. Objects have many physical qualities that maybe photographed. Primarily, we are concerned with what something looked like...this mountain; this building; this face.

    However, objects also are composed of abstract qualities that are not so easily photographed. An abstract quality such as 'texture' or 'colour' for example may be a subject completely removed from a specific object. We can take a picture of something that happens to be green but how do we take a picture OF green? We may take a picture od something that is smooth or rough but how do we take a picture of the quality of 'smoothness' or 'roughness' apart from the object itself? This is what abstract photography aims to do. It tries to separate a specific intangible element of an object and present that to us so that we experience that quality...'greenness' for example...as not simply a part of an object but as the 'pure' concept.

    Too many people think that an abstract photograph is supposed to be confusing and induce the 'Huh?' reaction but, in fact, the best of the abstracts give new information and provide viewers with insight into a quality that they cannot ordinarily experience directly but only as a property of something else. It provokes the 'Ah Ha!" reaction instead of the 'Huh?'reaction.

    Over the years, people have blurred the idea of the abstract into a catch-all for photographic mistakes and bad technique. You accidentally pressed the shutter release and what is, in reality, an unframed, out of focus, poorly exposed mistake becomes an 'abstract'! The really good abstract photographers have complete control over what they are planning to capture on film. The know what intangible essence they want to convey and that doesn't happen by accident.

    Good abstracts are perhaps the most difficult of all images to produce. Mistakes labelled as abstracts take no effort whatsoever.
  3. Check out: Aaron Siskind, Brett Weston, Minor White, Harry Callahan,
    Paul Caponigro, Toshio Shibata, Kenneth Josephson, Ray Metzker, Burke Uzzle["Urban Landscapes"]
  4. Meryl, thank you for a very clear and readable description of what abstract photography is and isn't.
  5. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Abstract art is reasonably well-defined. A typical definition says that "artistic content depends on internal form rather than pictorial representation." In other words, the subject of the photo is no longer the subject.

    Unlike what Meryl says in the diatribe above, it really doesn't matter how one gets there - abstraction is defined by the result and not the method. No definition on earth for a genre of art specifies the level of experimentation involved.
  6. If some of you would be willing to post a photo or two of your work or work you admire that is abstract, please do so and explain what it is you do or do not like about the abstract. It will help me learn more insight into how various folks view what is and isn't a good example. I think I have a good idea of what is or isn't good but I simply want to check my opinion with some of yours as subjective as it is because some of you are simply artistically inclined and/or have vast experience/education in photography.

  7. Have a look at this one of mine. It takes a second to work out what you're looking at. Here's another.
    Why do I like them - especially the first ... it's something very hard to pin down, but it is to with the beauty in details of things. Jeff's "The subject of the photo is no longer the subject." is very apt - what the picture is of, and what it is about are different things.
  8. Thanks for the tip - I now know what to do with my blurry mistakes. All kidding aside, I think that the approach to great and compelling abstract photography is the same as what seperates good photography from great photography in general. It is about the vision - you previsualize clearly what you are trying to achieve and only then do you try to reach that vision. I really think this is where the "artisic" element fits into photography. My own photography improved immensely once I stopped taking "good" pictures and started concentrating on what I wanted to achieve and convey to the viewers. Although, I haven't been 100% successful (more like 50%), each time I try, I learn a little more about the techniques to achieve that vision.

    With abstract photography, there is the more difficult added element of visualizing the "unseen" - in other words, seeing form and art in something most people would not and bring it to light in a photograph.

    Most people think that if you can tell what it is in the image then it's not an abstract. Thats nonsense - James O"Neill's examples above demonstrate that. What James did with these photos is he is using the female form to create an abstract utilizing lighting, pose, etc. I'm sure when he took the first photo, it was visualized that way and not a "hey, if I crop this, it would make a good abstract" photo - the second photo demonstrates this to a greater degree because of the use of unusual lighting patterns to create the abstract. It's obvious that the thought went in before the photo was taken. To some, his work will not be considered abstacts and others will embrace them as abstacts but that really doesn't matter because unlike most types of photography, abstract photography, like abstract art in general is very subjective.

    In closing, good abstract photography starts with a vision of what you want to convey - great abstact photograph is when you achieve it.
  9. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    you previsualize clearly what you are trying to achieve and only then do you try to reach that vision.
    If this were the only way things were done, photography would never have been invented and photography would have been static since the 1830s. It's only through experimentation, and trying to find something new that can be done, that we find the next way to achieve the vision, or the way to achieve a vision that doesn't conform to the norm.
    Some people are committed to the status quo rather than any kind of change, but that's not what the history of photography has been about. Great photography has been characterized by a relentless quest to find new ways of expression, a quest born in its experimental roots.
    Abstract photography is particularly difficult - many people seem to revert to very close up shots to create abstracts, but there are many ways, including some no-one has yet tried, to create abstract photographs.
  10. Jeff's comments are always...interesting.

    What I hoped to indicate is that we should have a great deal of respect for the best of the abstract photographers because, like anything worthwhile, they have worked very hard to perfect their art. There were no shortcuts or tricks that they used to achieve their spectacular results.

    Too many people demand instant success...creativity without having to work at it...art without effort. It doesn't work that way. If you depend upon dumb luck in your art you will never be able to reproduce an effect when you want to but, if you uderstand what you are doing you know how to make the camera respond to your vision.

    When you see what some of these artists can do with a camera, you have a real respect for their talent and skill and 'know-how'. It is hard to have the same kind of respect for somebody who says, "I don't know what the hell I did...it just came out that way. Kinda cool, huh?"
  11. Meryl, I kinda like the “oh cool look at this approach”…and wonder what ‘we’ would have missed out on if everything was very calculated and we didn’t make mistakes through experimentation in the arts, medicine, industry, technology….
    Abstract, to remove something from its context? I think Jeff’s first comment pretty much nailed it.
    Here’s a pic I took of some wall to wall carpeting.
  12. Cool, the way it came out -eh? :)
  13. Keith Laban Photography
    "Abstract art is reasonably well-defined. A typical definition says that "artistic content depends on internal form rather than pictorial representation." In other words, the subject of the photo is no longer the subject."
    This is interesting. Jeff with respect this is perhaps a “typical definition” from a photographers standpoint, which is fair enough as we are contributing to a photography forum.
    I’m not sure why so many photographers think of an abstract image as being unrecognisable, whilst painters will often strive for just the opposite, using abstraction not to loose or obscure the subject, but to enhance and add to it.
  14. Keith, with respect to you and everyone else here I don’t know if the intent for painters or photographers is to make it unrecognizable. Then again maybe in some instances it is.
    Anyway, I do not think that the abstract impressionists were looking to enhance or add too. But rather they were taking away from. Picasso’s and De Kooning’s amongst others were moving towards a more primitive style or language.
    Aaron Siskind a good example as far as photography goes. His subject’s clearly recognizable yet taken out of context becomes abstract but we still know what it is.
  15. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Keith, that definition originally came from an abstract art definition. I modified it slightly to address some of the photography issues. However, I think you've misread it - it says nothing about being unrecognizable, only that the form takes over from the content.
  16. Apologies Jeff, my last paragraph was not intended as a response to your quote, but merely a general observation. I should have made this clearer.
  17. Check out the work of Barbara Kasten who is known for her achitectual abstractions. She uses complicated lighting and mirrors to achieve her effect.

  18. To Ed,
    I like very much the wall carpeting shot. I love abstract photography! It is one of the areas I work in. I have looked at many of your photos posted here on the net and have been much impressed. You and I are attracted to the same subject matter and have similar styles. "Unfortunitely" I have no computer skills and no scanning equipment and therefore am unable to post any of my photographs. Anyway I really like the photos you have posted. Do you have a web site?
  19. Seems I've arrived at the party a bit late.

    I enjoy shooting abstracts with an emphasis on line and rhythm. I've uploaded quite a few. Feel free.
  20. check out my website for examples of what i consider abstract photography - rajivart.com - also be sure to read the artist statement -
  21. "In painting, the curve is a hill; in photography, the hill is a curve" -- Arnaud Claass
  22. I've done a few in my architecture folder
    To me the important part was to show an unusual view of the buildings where I live in. I wanted to show a pleasant and peacefull aspect clean and sharp not just the average dirty texture and saturated colors...
  23. Abstract photos, in my opinion, are those that don't necessarily contain a "universal theme" or those that don't "evoke emotion" or feeling or all that blah blah blah. Forgive me but it seems that every direction I turn people are wanting to tell a story with their photos, this being the main reason for creating them in the first place, which is all fine and well and perhaps part of my feeling towards this comes from not being able to do it as well as others. It's the very life and breath of the photojournalist and I do enjoy images that strike a feeling in me but I don't think that should be the basis for all photographs, as the New York Institute of Photography would have you believe. Que the abstract. Images that are made just to look at are what I consider to be abstract (of course herein lies another part of categorzing this type of artistic expression), although I do like this definition, "Abstract art is reasonably well-defined. A typical definition says that "artistic content depends on internal form rather than pictorial representation." In other words, the subject of the photo is no longer the subject." So, in light of that, perhaps what I'm trying to say has already been said, just more eloquently.

    Over the past months, while brooding over what area of photography I should devote my time and efforts towards, the lure of the abstract holds my attention more than any other and it is with this field that I have MUCH to learn. At this point my definition should be taken as an opinion and nothing more. I may return to this forum in a few months with an entirely different view but I thought I'd add my 2 sense now. We'll see what happens in the future.

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