Let's start by the beginning.

Discussion in 'Abstract' started by ajhingel, Oct 24, 2016.

  1. Abstract photography has always been with us since the middle of the 19th century, but let's just start by exemples, more than half a century later, by referring first of all to to Alvin Langdon Coburn (1910 and 20s). an American Pictorialist, member of the PhotoSecession group (Stieglitz, Steichen) and later active member of the British Vorticist movement (Cubism). He is a good example of how abstractions can be made by a multiple indefinite number of technics.
    His so-called « vortographs » have been mentioned as the "first abstract photographies" (which is a huge exaggeration of his importance) made by a kaleidoscopic repetitions of forms achieved by photographing objects through a triangular arrangement of three mirrors.
    Like these vortographs.
    Or look at his double portrait Doubleportrait
    Or his Octopus, New York photo
    Or his portrait of Ezra Pound
    Or this of a bicycle wheel
    or one could also look at this "Man Ray version of Man Ray" of imogen Cunningham
    - or many many others
    The technics that have been used in this very short series of examples of "abstract photography" or similar, are for example :
    • Cameraless photography (Photograms, rayograms...)
    • Super-imposition
    • multiple exposures
    • photo-montage
    • moving objects and lights
    • multiple exposures of arrested movement
    • physiographs
    • superimposing negative and positive versions
    • etc
    Digital photography and post-processing has immensely expanded the possibilities for creating abstract photos and seems also to have reinvented the creative possibilities of "cameraless photography".
    Abstract photography is, like other forms of artistic expression, not constrained by any borders and instead it has constantly expanding the borders of what photography is.
    What do you think ?
    Other forms of abstract photography that should be mentioned to illustrate the point ?
  2. Anders, good reading and fine photos by Coburn. Many are a combination of figurative and abstract elements or forms, which justifies a wide interpretation of what is an abstract image. The field of abstract photography is very wide indeed.
    This is my own initial venture in the field of abstract photography, some 30 years ago, called "Envol harmonieux", or "harmonious flight" (My multiple (14x) printed image appeared in historian Dr. Michel Lessard's 1989 monograph, "La magie de l'image - 150 années de la photographie" (homage on 150 years of negative - positive image photography, 1849 - 1989).
  3. Interesting. I especially like the last entry in the list, "etc."
  4. Fine remark Matthew, that was my intention. For you now....
  5. Abstract has no "forms."
    Abstract is 'not copying.' Not copying either the world or other abstract art, past or present. It is not what it is. :)
  6. Very nice summary of some important historical stopovers on this particular path.
    Thank you Anders.
    (We archaeologists always love to look at things historically. ;)
  7. Julie, I would not be so certain, that abstract has no "forms", if you wrote "recognizable forms" it might be easier to accept. What do all we, who work with "geometric abstracts", call our work, if not "abstract".
    When it comes to "copying" it is even more complex. I don't think any of us can say, that we did never ever get so much inspired by other photographers and artists and their work, that we actually never tried to "copy" their style, subjects and technics.
    Above I gave a link to a "Double Portrait" by Corburn, that I actually did not know before, but I have in fact made a series of such images using similar technics, which now seems to be a copycat work. It has been done before. Am I guilty ?
  8. By no forms, I mean it doesn't conform.
    The meaning of abstract is in contradiction to the meaning of copy. If you're doing one, you're not doing the other.
  9. I'm second to Julie. Period. Thank you.
  10. I have a problem with the "Octopus, New York" photo being considered an abstract. It's too representational as to what it is.
    The others are perfect examples and are quite brilliant and compelling looking. I guess for me if I can tell what it is as a simple snap shot taken from above of an area of land with roads, footpaths and trees and buildings, I'm calling that a landscape. Sorry.
  11. If I understand Julie's term "copying" to mean repetition of forms in an ordered pattern not being considered abstract, then I'ld have to disagree with her. But the image Arthur posted of the violins repeated and arranged in a 'V' shape is more what I'ld consider surrealism, not abstract.
  12. Tim, while I agree that repetition of elements is entirely acceptable in an abstract image, I think it depends on whether they are there in a realistic context or are instead presented as part of an abstraction from reality. One definition of abstract art is art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, forms, colors, and textures.
    A flight of geese is one in which each bird is not in some absolutely perfect geometrical relation to the others. By substituting a violin for geese I also could not present each element in a perfect geometrical array (and not desired) as each violin was exposed as a small negative onto a previously projected larger sky photo negative on the enlarger easel, and the creation of the V pattern was done in the dark and by moving the easel at each exposure. Needless to say it took two or tree trials to get the desired overall image without violins being superposed on each other (airborne geese collisions).
    The objective was not only surrealistic but an abstraction (albeit using recognizable elements) from the reality of geese flying through the sky, in other words the first half of the above definition of abstract art. The second half the definition is partly satisfied as the form of the violins is only partly similar to the substituted long necked snow geese that I had been observing earlier that day.
    Surrealism is I think just one approach to abstraction and abstract art. It surprises the viewer as it is not reality, although it may not harbor all the intellectual aspects of non-figurative abstract art. The extended darkroom experience was accompanied by remembrances of watching the geese in migration that morning and listening in the darkroom to a recorded version of Vaughan William's "The lark ascending". A sort of state of grace for a darkroom photographer toiling in the dark.
  13. Tim, the photo "Octopus", was at the time it was made considered "abstract" maybe because it had never been done before and was to a lesser degree, considered representational.
    I would agree with you that the violines of Arthus are surrealist, more than abstract.

    I still haven't understood Julie.
    no forms = doesn't conform (obviously, it doesn't conform like all creative expressions)
    Abstract =/= copy​
    Does that mean that the image below is not abstract ?
  14. No. It is not an abstract. It is a graphic art as Andy Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans" painting.
    "Harmonious flight" is a surrealistic image and not an abstract.
  15. Anders and Bela, do you not think that surrealism is really just a subset (or part) of abstract art, different only from what is normally associated with or as abstract art? Cubism and Dadoism are probably that as well. They do not show things as they appear, but something else which is often more. When the image is a deconstruction of perceived reality and replaced by something that is not what one might normally perceive as reality, or which offers an alternative meaning, is that not also abstract? I see violins and geese as each exhibiting similar harmonious patterns, one in sound, the other in flight. We don't see violins in flight. Their flight pattern (one might think "there is music in the air...") is I think an abstraction. How or what the viewer sees in regard to an image is likely important in determining whether he or she concludes that it is predominantly surrealist or mainly abstract.
    The last graphic pattern of Anders is visually appealing, but to take it from simply appearing as pretty wallpaper (Note that by staring at it one can sense the slight illusion of other shapes, which may to do mainly with how our eyes and brain registers patterns...) have you not considered introducing complementary masses, varied color or other forms into that background to yield a more dynamic or complete abstract composition? It has the potential that it does not offer recognizable objects.
  16. Arthur, I appreciate your including a background describing all your hard work in making and conceptualizing the violins flying in 'V' formation image (it's quite clever, lyrical and whimsical), but I still have to disagree with you about it being an abstract. As a cartoonist that image reminds me of Monty Python's Terry Gilliam's composite work but more in a lyrical Rene Magritte style both of which are considered surrealism.
    Abstract as I've come to understand it just by viewing a lot of it in paintings, photos and sculptures gives no leading narrative and stylized story telling to indicate the creator is showing an actual event or object as if saying..."Look here what I've seen happen". Abstracts don't really convey a here and now. That's what makes them a different kind of escapist imagery. It's suppose to distort reality with a sort of fun house mirror POV that skirts the edge of reality just for some grounding/reference to the viewer without telling an obvious story other than convey the creator's intelligence in how they view of the world and make and present it in the image.
  17. Does that mean that the image below is not an abstract?​
    Anders, it's an abstract. No sense of place or time and does not tell an obvious story. It's done in a graphic style of abstract Piet Mondrian pioneered and highly influenced the modern style of commercial graphics.
    Cartoons were the early beginnings of this graphic style of abstract which functioned as a condensed but more finished first draft representations of a depiction of reality that goes back centuries and grew to be used to more conceptualize complex design, thought experiments and elaborate depictions of reality. It's a sketch style but more finished to represent something so its essence wouldn't be forgotten.
    The simpler the lines in doing this sketch/cartoon style the faster it becomes committed to memory to the point it created its own look/style that morphed into a subconscious led meandering to form shapes and patterns. Or a doodle! Like Jackson Pollock's work. It suggests or conveys the creators meandering thoughts and their subconscious. That's what makes them so interesting looking and why kids are drawn to cartoons which to them sort of mimics their active, developing minds in a more simplistic, easy to digest form.
  18. If we are discussing abstract art, and not abstract photography, graphic styles, or simple sketches and cartoons, we need to consider the critical and ordered aspects of color harmony, the use of point, line and form, equilibrium of masses, tones and and contrasts and related visual constructions that create original non-figurative graphics and compositions of beauty that merit the title of abstract art. Neglecting these building blocks and formal relationships simply robs the image of added value and this is so easy to see in abstract photography.
    In photography abstraction is useful in creating images - It is providing freedom from representational qualities, turning your subject into something that apparently it is not.
  19. Of course I'm not sure what is really what - maybe I'm a little abstract myself! But I've always tried to find the abstract qualities in literal photography. But maybe that's laziness, or maybe it's just blank composition. Hard to say. But I've always kind of liked the sort of photograph in which what it is and why it is are not quite the same. Or at least they need not be. Here's one that could be looked at either way, I suppose. If you know just what it is and where it is, and why it's there, it's history. If you don't, perhaps it's abstraction, and also a pretty decent optical illusion. Can it be both?
  20. Copying = figurative. Abstract is not figurative.
    "The artist is concerned solely with linking these absolute qualities directly to his wit, imagination, and experience, without the go-between of a 'subject.' Working on a single plane as the instantaneously visualizing factor, he realizes his mind motives and physical sensations in a permanent and universal language of color, texture, and form organization. He uncovers the pure plane of expression that has so long been hidden by the glazings of nature imitation, anecdote, and the other popular subjects." — May Ray, 1916 [emphasis added]​
  21. Some people seem impelled to be very specific, as Parson Thwackum in Tom Jones (Chapter iii):
    When I mention religion, I mean the Christian religion; and not only the Christian religion, but the Protestant religion; and not only the Protestant
    religion, but the Church of England.​
    I can't help feeling that ukase about what is and what is not "abstract" can be overdone in relation to what is, after all, an "abstraction".
    Jes' sayin'
  22. Thanks Julie. I'm a little slow, when you use telegram style for insiders :)
    What always has occupied me is, how to make the travel from the originalseen reality, towards something totally abstract. I find, that also in paintings there are successive and progressing stages of abstraction, and on the other side, in abstracts, you often find traces of reality and known forms. I will not bother with given examples, but my interest has always been to cover these different stages as a photographer leaving the known and seen reality and slowly deconstructing it in order to arrive at something totally detached with no signs of what you call copying. Another approach is of course to stay completely detached from the seen and experienced reality and work on the isolated place called abstract with no signs of known (or unknown) copying.
  23. Anders, it turned out to be a good exercise for me. In my art theory compendiums, finding a simple declaration of what is meant by abstract isn't easy; they all seem to assume that one knows (as did I).
    Note that in all cases, Dada and Surrealism follow abstract/nonobjective/constructivism; they are not the same. Also of interest is that abstract is sometimes separated into Gestural and Geometric, which I think is kind of helpful.
    Addendum: reading Anders post, above (I had previously only read his emailed post); mixing figurative with abstract or ... any other mixture, isn't in any way "not allowed" or bad or good or whatever. For example de Kooning's Woman series enraged Clement Greenberg because it was obviously figurative and abstract.
  24. Thank you Julie. Exactly as quoted. Period.
    Cubism and Dadoism is not abstrac it is Cubism or Dadoism, surrealism is not abstract aether.
  25. I somewhat react to Bela's repeated "period", as if something could not be questioned ! I think you are too rigid in your assertions.
    When you write "surrealism is not abstract aether" One could on the contrary say, that an abstract work can be surrealist as a surrealist work is abstract.
    Take Dali's the Great Masturbator, which is both "surrealistic and abstract".
    It has been said that surrealism just is a title created for a certain form of abstract art, that happened to have a representational aesthetic as well as the traditional abstract distortion of figures. There is certainly no "copying" going on.
    I give another example below of an abstract work (mixed media) of my own with surrealistic dimension to it.
  26. Bela, rather than argue your thoughts, here are two definitions that describe abstraction and abstract art:
    Abstract Art is a generic term that describes two different methods of abstraction: 'semi abstraction' and 'pure abstraction'. The word 'abstract' means to withdraw part of something in order to consider it separately. In Abstract art that 'something' is one or more of the visual elements of a subject: its line, shape, tone, pattern, texture, or form.
    Semi-Abstraction is where the image still has one foot in representational art, (see Cubism and Futurism). It uses a type of stylisation where the artist selects, develops and refines specific visual elements (e.g. line, color and shape) in order to create a poetic reconstruction or simplified essence of the original subject.
    (Source: www.artyfactory.com)
    I think "Envol harmonieux" and some of the other examples given above probably adhere to the second definition.
    Abstract art existed at least 35,000 years before Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism

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