Abstraction in Photography vs abstraction in other art forms

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by vale_surfer, Feb 18, 2004.

  1. I am very new to photography but have dabbled in the arts - drawing,
    woodwork, etc for a while. I can tell from experience that in drawing
    and painting one needs to attain a high level of skill and
    proficiency before one can represent abstract ideas successfully (to
    oneself, at least).

    Is that true for photography as well...? Or is the photographer at a
    basic disadvantage because he is constrained by the nature of camera
    equipment and film?
     
  2. Can`t wait for Hans Beckert on this one :).

    I think, the process is similar for all art forms - to abstract You must know very well WHAT to abstract, so the skills for doing "straight" photos is required - at least for me.
     
  3. Like you Vale, I've worked in a few visual media; etching, watercolour, acrylics, website design, typography and photography. I've always found that the nature of the equipment and materials both constrain my options and contradictoraly open up new creative possiblities for me. I find the same within cameras and between digital and film. I shoot differently with my rangefinder cameras than I do with my SLRs. I shoot differently with my film and digital SLR. I shoot differently with my xpan (panoramic camera) than I do with my 35format cameras. I should say I shoot and *think* differently in each case even with similar external objects that are the focus of my work.

    To me, photography is about abstracting from a very dynamic world, an image which is static in time but speaks about larger universal issues. That photo equipment, materials and processes have their limitations seem no different to me than the limitations of what you can and can't do with guache, acrylics, dreamweaver, deep bite etching etc.
     
  4. I would like to think that one needs to obtain a high level of proficiency before they can to 'deliberate' abstractions.... not to suggest a novice could not, but there might be more luck than skill involved. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes regarding photography (I believe from LensWork) - it goes something like this - it is intuitive to all that a violinist must practice everyday to become proficient or to dream of playing a performance; why should the same commitment to the practice of photography not be true?
     
  5. Abstract artists have the knack of separating the 'intangible' propreties of an object and making them objects in themselves. Properties such as form, color, light, shade, texture...all can be 'abstracted' in art allowing us to appreciate them in isolation from the rest of the object.

    The camera has the ability to force the viewer to look at things in new ways simply by how the photographer decides to frame and focus the camera. Outlines can be softened. Colours emphasized or eliminated altogether. Motion can be frozen and the microscopic made visible to the eye. Few painters have the ability to render objects as they appear in the InfraRed or Ultra-violet spectrums but photographers do.

    In this sense, the nature of the camera and film are not 'constraining' in the least. They may even be too liberating.

    Too many people take unplanned, random shots and claim the results to be 'abstracts'. We have all see them. Out of focus; badly composed; shaky black and white images that have obviously had no more thought put into them that the twitch of a thumb on the shutter release while 'shooting from the hip'. They are nothing and certainly NOT abstract.

    It is still too difficult to get a shot in proper focus for me to be excited or even interested in out of focus pictures. If I wanted to see the world as a blur all I have to do is take off my glasses. "Wow, abstact, man!"

    All art requires some thought and the absence of thought means that, whatever is produced...doesn't deserve the name 'art'.
     
  6. I would suggest that the biggest constraint (in any form of artistic expression) is typically that of the artist's vision and drive. When real emotion/pain/etc. is coupled to dedication and a need to express oneself, the tools used are seldom the limiting factor. Skill and proficiency enable the artist to better present his or her vision - it seldom (if ever) happens purely by chance. Can an artist with a camera create everything that an artist with a brush and paint can, or vice-versa? I would suggest not. Can they both express their vision? It depends upon the vision and how skilled they are with their chosen tool to express such vision. Can a master painter who has never picked up a camera express his/her vision as well with a camera as with paint? Likely not. Can a master painter devote him/herself to photography until he/she can? Sure, why not. Am I rambling? Well, yes I am.
     
  7. All photographs are abstract visions no matter the degree of realism
    inherent in the depiction of the subject.

    "Is that true for photography as well...?"

    Yes. If you are already trained as a painter you'll find ways to bend the camera to your
    vision just as a painter or lithographer does with their tools.

    "Or is the photographer at a basic disadvantage because he is constrained by the
    nature of camera equipment and film?"

    No.
     
  8. Vale wrote:
    Is that true for photography as well...? Or is the photographer at a basic disadvantage because he is constrained by the nature of camera equipment and film?
    The question above has a certain yes no quality to it.
    Yes one is at a basic disadvantage with photography as it, in my mind, takes more creative thinking to take the medium and abstract with it. One can easily, with paint, abstract an idea to canvas because the individual has the free choice which direction to go with the process with the concept in their head. They have but to put medium to canvas. In the case of photography, it's not quite as straight forward as lining up the subject and putting light to film or sensor. After the fact, purposful, unrelated to traditional photographic processess, mechanical manipulation needs to take place.
    But no, with a better understanding of the processes surrounding the medium, once understood, can easily, with effort, be done.
    The Starn Twins are an excellent example of the manipulation of the photographic medium.
    The Starn Brothers
    Adobe's Photoshop is an excellent graphics manipulation program that's well worth the expenditure and the looooooog learning curve involved in learning it's many possibilities, should abstract manipulation be your paramount concern. Even if it isn't, PS is the way to go for your straight forward digital photographic needs.
    Hope the above helps give you some insight to your question. Stay stoked braw:)
     
  9. Photography is not art and cannot be art. What you might call 'Abstraction' in photography is merely a clever presentation of what is before the camera, by selection of film, lens, angles, lighting, timing, and special darkroom processes.
     
  10. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I think you need to clarify what you are saying.
    "Abstract art" has a reasonably specific usage; this is pretty good at explaining:
    Abstract - In painting and sculpture, emphasizing a derived essential character having little visual reference to objects in nature. In painting and sculpture, emphasizing a derived essential character having little visual reference to objects in nature. A 20th century style of painting in which nonrepresentational lines, colors, shapes, and forms replace accurate visual depiction of objects, landscape, and figures. The subjects often stylized, blurred, repeated or broken down into basic forms so that it becomes unrecognizable. Intangible subjects such as thoughts, emotions, and time are often expressed in abstract art form.
    When you say "abstraction of ideas," it's unclear what you mean. Maybe you can give an example.
     
  11. Jeff Wrote:

    When you say "abstraction of ideas," it's unclear what you mean. Maybe you can give an example.

    Jeff:

    "Intangible subjects such as thoughts, emotions, and time are often expressed in abstract art form."

    Years ago as a high school student, I was experimenting with wood and remember having constructed three progressively smaller "empty" wooden cubes, each suspended , almost hanging inside the larger.I was working on a plan and colored the cubes differently calling the model "Essence" after the dark colored central cube.Just a beginner's random thought then..:) ,I'm starting out in Photography now but find myself ill-equipped to indulge in a similar exercise, obviously it will take me a while(= years) to get familiar with the various technical issues of this medium.

    But then, as Ellis Vener says: "All photographs are abstract visions no matter the degree of realism inherent in the depiction of the subject".

    I agree .
     
  12. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    If we accept Ellis' statement (and I don't have a problem with it), then your question about needing to to attain a high level of skill and proficiency is simply answered by "No."
     
  13. "it is intuitive to all that a violinist must practice everyday to become proficient or to dream of playing a performance; why should the same commitment to the practice of photography not be true?"

    Answer: Because they are two different things. Using a clutch, tightrope walking, cooking food, juggling are all skills; they sure don't all require the same level of commitment to practice.
     
  14. Hans: I have before me the February Issue of ARTNEWS. I can say with reasonable accuracy that 50% of the topics and images in this good publication have photography as a subject. Since they are obviously mistaken according to your dogma, I think you need to get a hold of them as soon as possible to correct the error of their ways...or get a subscription to the magazine...
     
  15. it is intuitive to all that a violinist must practice everyday to become proficient or to dream of playing a performance; why should the same commitment to the practice of photography not be true?"
    that is an absolutely true statement. if you are talking about consistently performing music or making photographs at a high level of profiency.
    Hans, your theorectical "photography is not an art" horse is dead and has been for some time. Some day you may realize this.
    Photography is photography , painting is painting, music is music, cooking is cooking, sculpture is sculpture, theater is theater, literature is literature, poetry is poetry, and dance is dance. All are forms of communication at their best inspire, bemuse, stimulate, amuse, move to tears, connect an audience of at least one with something bigger, deeper and more mysterious than a quotidian strictly utilitarian experience.
     
  16. "All good art is abstract in its structure."
    -Paul Strand
     
  17. Well, there are two abstraction axis I know: the first, the most common, and the one I don't want to talk about here (non-pertinent subject), is the axis "scientific vs. artistic abstraction" - Boooooooring! But the second axis looks to be much more interesting: "formal vs. symbolic abstraction".

    Things are simple: "formal" means abstracting the form, while "symbolic" means abstracting the content (message, ideas). And these two abstraction forms are not specific only to the art, they can be found in science too: "formal vs. symbolic logic" is the best example. That's all.

    Abstraction in photography now. Well, formal abstraction is decorative: decontextualised excerpts, textures, things like that... The lines of a fence or steers, the texture of a pavement, some shadows, all these, if decontextualised, might create formal abstractions. The idea of such abstractions is that the subject loses more or less its original identity and becomes pure decorative. As for the symbolic abstractions, the idea is to work with messages and ideas. To encrypt them in a composition with an unusual, even abnormal, look. The objects used might be very concrete objects, doesn't matter - the only thing that matters is the composition: the relation between these objects, and the relation with the context, all these have to generate an unreal image. Finally, the more connotative the message is, the higher the artistic quality (of symbolic abstraction).

    Can these two sorts of abstraction coexist in the same image? Have no clue! Independently they work. Together...?
     
  18. At symbolic abstraction, instead of "To encrypt them in a composition with an unusual, even abnormal, look", read please: "To encrypt them in a composition, that will result in a more or less unusual, even abnormal, image." The idea is that this unreal and even abnormal image is a result not a purpose.
     
  19. jbs

    jbs

    Or Hans Beckert could just as well have said,

    "Abstraction is not art and cannot be art. What you might call 'Abstraction' in art is merely a clever presentation of what is before the mind, by selection of oils, brushes, angles, lighting, mood, and special brush stroking."

    And would have been just as correct...;)...J
     
  20. First, I found it: both abstractions, formal and symbolic ones, in the same picture, and I like the result. Is true, there might be a hierarchy between them (the abstraction types). See the link here below:

    http://www.pixiport.com/Cgi-Bin/PixiDetail.pl?IMAGE=Gallery-C/GC2-12.jpg&LINK=GALLERY-C02.htm&CAP=

    Secondly, I see that MOST of formal abstractions are "found", while the symbolic ones are "created". But this is not exclusive.
     
  21. Hans, we understand that you believe that photography cannot be art. You pop up in every thread I read where the idea of photo as art is assumed and seek to steer the discussion around to your point of view, which wasnt the purpose of the thread to begin with.

    Don't you have something other than this one opinion you've beaten to death? Please give it a rest and allow those who have a contrary view to discuss their ideas within their shared conceptual framework without having to be sidetracked by your dogmatic assertions.
     
  22. Mr. Beckert's insitance that photography cannot be art is both highly debatable and not universally accepted. However, arguments raised by the photography-cannot-be-art crowd are as legitimate as any other reasonably well thought-out position even if you disagree. The position represents a facet of art theory that has persisted since photography began and continues to have its die-hard adherents.

    I believe that photography can be art and I can support the position with resaons that I believe have convincingly strong merit. Yet I remain open to the possibility of another point of view and welcome any challenges to my reasons, not in a combative sense, but rather in the sense that the ideas should be challenged. It is one good way to measure their strength and gleen new perspective.

    Mr. Beckert's repeated photography-cannot-be-art postings keeps me on my toes and has had me revisit my own thinking on the matter perhaps more than might otherwise be the case. For that I am grateful. As a result, I have gained new ground in my relationship with the issue and both strengthened and deepened my own understanding.

    Fighting over whether photography can be art or not is a waste of time. But taking to heart the position that rattles us most and really giving it chance intellectually is a wonderful way to learn.

    The medium will always play a role in any form of self-expression because it is the vehicle for the expression. For the artist interested abstraction via photography, the elements which are unique to the medium are no more or less an advantage than any other art-form. Abstraction is primarily a conceptual endeavor and photography is as fertile a place as any for expressive ideas.
     
  23. well, to digress from the point i came here to make.

    photography can be art. photography can also be not art. depends on intent, and thought, really. anywho. i don't feel like debating that one, cause, well it's all opinions, really, what is and what is not art.

    but what i came to say is that abstract in other media is easy. i would even go so far as to say that it's easier than subjectivity. wanna make an abstract? paint a white canvas white. easy. want a little bit more? paint it red, and cut it to shreds. any idiot can do this. doing certain kinds can be tough yes. painting like russell mills and ian watson can be a little tricky. but painting, drawing, etc, lend themselves very easily to abstract. it's getting markings on a page or canvas to LOOK LIKE SOMETHING that's tough.

    photography lends it self to subjectivity. point at an object, snap. any idiot can do this. doing it well takes skill, sure. but it takes a little mroe skill and creativity to get a photo to NOT look like something.

    (don't see a lot of abstracts on here, do you? maybe i should post a few lol)
     
  24. HB consistently forces photo discussions to his own anti photo art mantra over and over again. Lets go back to the original thread. The "nature of camera equipment and film" is no different that paint, the palette and the brush. What you do with it is your decision. To a large extent I am in agreement that a large level of proficiency and skill is required before an abstract idea is presented successfuly, what I would add is that the critical prerequisite, a perception of what is really abstract can be brought across in the image, so that others will interpret it as you would hope....I often have the feeling that many artists resort to "abstract" painting to mask a skill or perception deficiency (which usually shows anyway).
     
  25. I must agree with Jeff Locke on one point: photography can and cannot be art. If the photograph is made with an artistic intent or message, then it is art. However I do not believe that a commercial photographer doing a product shot is making art. This is a very subjective subject and will receive a wide range of responses.

    In my opinion, abstraction in photography has to do with taking existing, identifiable object and/or subject and simplifying it to basic forms and shapes, lines, textures and etcetera. There may also be other forms of abstraction in photography (through the aid of multiple exposures, moving in close, moving out far) however in my opinion that is abstraction in a nutshell.

    In respect to needing a high level of skill and proficiency in order to represent one's abstract ideas, I believe this is a very burry question. A photographer who has only been photographing for four months and who wants to express himself through abstract photographs can do so, as can a photographer of 30 years. If one has the ideas and or visualization, coupled with enough basic knowledge, I believe this person can accurately express them. On the other hand, abstract images made by accident with no intent whatsoever to express their ideas and/or visualizations, in my opinion are not abstract art.

    The photographer is not limited by his equipment or his film, equipment is only a means to an end. A skilled photographer with a vision and a Holga can make better images than a beginner with a Leica or a Hasselblad. The only way in which the photographer is ever limited is by the real world (and with the advent of Photoshop this is starting to disappear). In other words, a photographer can only make photographs of an existing object, he/she for example; cannot make a picture of a non-existent person.

    Best wishes,

    --Dominic
     
  26. I must agree with Jeff Locke on one point: photography can and cannot be art. If the photograph is made with an artistic intent or message, then it is art. However I do not believe that a commercial photographer doing a product shot is making art.
    It's not that it can and cannot be art. What you seem to be saying is that photgraphy can be art, but not all photos are art by definition.
     
  27. Exactly.
     

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