The Nature of Abstract Photography

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by michaellinder, Apr 15, 2010.

  1. Since discovering that I had a propensity to create abstract photographs, I have reflected on the nature of such photographs from time to time. Initially this was motivated by a critique of one of my photos, saying basically that it was interesting from the standpoint of graphic design, but had little to do with photography.
    Admittedly, I sometimes create abstracts primarily by playing with geometry and color. Although these photos began as having identifiable subjects, the net result is the disappearance of such subjects. My other methodology involves modifying the appearance of an identifiable subject and/or the context of the photograph. In such an instance, the subject usually remains identifiable.
    Regardless, my aim is to encourage a viewer, if not to force a viewer, to suspend the use of ordinary categories by which subjects are identified and to view the photograph from a totally different point of view. That, in a nutshell, is my take on the nature of abstract photography.
    Your thoughts, please . . . ?
     
  2. Do you have a particular point of view from which you want the observer to consider the image? When a photograph is sufficiently detached from the context of its origins, and must stand alone (sans commentary from the photographer, and perhaps without the benefit of being seen in a larger exhibit that constructs a purpose, or world view, or other context), I find that true abstractions stop being communication, and serve instead as a personal catalyst for the viewer's own musings.

    Of course, most abstractions aren't seen in that much of a vacuum. But I think it would help if you discussed the manner in which you expect your audience to encounter the images.
     
  3. Like Matt, I am also left with a question, though a different one. Would you feel comfortable sharing the link to the critique of the photo you mention? It's hard to address the issue in the abstract (forgive the pun). If I had a photo before me, I could say something more about the "graphic design" comment and how the photo struck me. I also like Matt's probing question. (Matt, I don't agree that true abstractions stop being communication although I do agree that a lot is left up to the viewer.)
    As far as a general answer to the "is it a photo" question, people seem to have an investment in categorizing things: this piece is a work of art, that one isn't, this is a photograph, that's not, he's a liberal, she's a conservative, etc. To me, though I've played the game myself, more important is what's happening internally in the picture and not where I'd place it in some list of categories.
    I certainly have seen abstracts that I consider photographs and don't have to think twice about it. I've seen other abstract photographs where graphic design elements seem more prominent and are more the raison d'etre of the photograph, but I have no problem calling them photographs.
    My own feelings about and reaction to the abstract might well be affected by how the abstract was accomplished. Some might make actual collages, some "straight" photos look like collages, some are shots of parts of the "real" world that, when isolated in the frame, look abstract. Some are shots that might be recognizable except for the camera or motion blur that's utilized to make the scene unrecognizable. Some are post-processed into abstracts. There are overlaps and sometimes it's hard to tell what's what and sometimes it's more clear how the abstract came about. They can feel very differently to the viewer. Man Ray's abstracts and Jackson Pollock's abstracts are very different animals.
     
  4. Abstract is a type of art just as landscape, nude and portrait. It can be pursued using different mediums such as painting, sculpture or photography. If your are abstracts are done with photographic means, then they are photographs. I have a real problem when people start saying that an abstract, landscape or nude is not a photograph just because it does not fit into some narrow, preconceived notion of what a photograph should look like.
     
  5. Matt and Fred: I have no particular point of view " . . . from which want the observer to consider the image." To me, this is the attraction of abstract photography. The photographer has no agenda by which to try to influence the viewer. Instead, the viewer is free to impose his/her own point of view on a photograph. One viewer sees the glass as half-empty, while the other sees it as half-full. I think this has to do with the distiction between seeing and seeing as.
    Fred: You are absolutely correct. By looking at abstracts other than mine on PN, I've seen that there is a variety of techniques by which these photographs are created. (By the way, it will take more time than I have available right now to locate the specific photograph to which I alluded. However, I will post the link to one which I think is of the same genre.)
     
  6. http://www.photo.net/photo/9837935
     
  7. Michael-
    You probably have done enough abstract images to know that the successful ones while not figurative or representational must have the same elements of composition that contribute to works in which the subject matter is identifiable. These include the harmony and discordance of colours, shapes, forms, spaces, light and dark, symmetry and assymetry, equilibrium of masses, contrasts of textures, lines, etc., not to mention the important emotional use of these elements or combinations
    Many photos called abstracts are far from fulfilling those conditions and end up being unidentifiable in that sense or simply "interesting". The same situation applies in abstract art (painting, sculpture). Abstracts of great power are a daunting task, especially for the photographer who must work in a medium with less degrees of freedom than the artist-painter.
     
  8. I also think that if the abstract photograph leads someone to wonder how it was made through the use of a camera and lens or processing, I think it loses much of its value. In an analogous manner, who cares whether the painter mixed varnish and oils and acrylics and chalk in making his or her image, and in what order? It's what the image conveys that is important. When you get hung up on that it often means that there is not enough in the power of the image itself to carry it. Or it is simply a very "technical" image. Again, the composition, emotion, feeling of the image are just as important in an abstract image (photo, painting) as in a figurative or semi-figurative one, and probably more so, given the challenges of abstract art.
     
  9. "saying basically that it was interesting from the standpoint of graphic design, but had little to do with photography."
    Michael, I know it might have been impossible to find his critique and thanks for linking to your photo. I wanted to read how his critique was worded and how he characterized your photo. It's one thing to suggest it's simply not a photo. It's another to say that it has little to do with photography. And it would be another to say it has a graphic design feel.
    Were I describing it, I'd say the latter. I think it does have a very graphic feel. That in itself is not at all a judgment, just an assessment. I wouldn't obsess about categorizing it as photograph or graphic arts. It wouldn't matter to me. Since it started out with a camera, I'd lean toward calling it a photograph.
    I doubt Gordon will mind if I link to one of his photos.
    Gordon described his work in this way: "I . . . find the term "Abstract Photographer " an uneasy fit. . . . I am inclined to see abstracts as being images stripped of context , where line and colour are all that remains, however I regularly see the term used to encompass images with ample context." Someone else added that Gordon's images remain visibly rooted in reality. Gordon's image seem to me less graphic than yours. (Again, not a judgment.) More than the connection to reality, I think the depth of the image, the layering, which gives it a three-dimensional quality, makes it less graphic. I'd say yours is more abstract.
    My photo of Mission Creek was processed intentionally in a flat, wood-cut like style. I was influenced by the Japanese photographer Moriyama, who did a lot of this sort of thing. It's a case where we remain quite rooted in reality. We can tell what the scene is, etc. But, to me, it has a more graphic feel, for instance, than Gordon's photo and perhaps it does not go quite as far in the graphic direction as yours.
    We're talking about "graphic design" and I think your abstract work deals with design quite a lot. You suggest in your opening post that the identification of subject is not a concern and that the viewer will be free to adopt a different point of view. Since narrative is not directed and may not even be suggested to some, "design" may be a significant element in your work. It seems a big part of it to me. Design can be an important element in many kinds of photographs, even narrative ones. But in an abstract, design often comes to the fore.
     
  10. Addendum: I want to add that I linked to my photo to make a point about "graphic" and not about abstract. It's not abstract, just graphic.
     
  11. There are so many people who are more interested in what a photograph can't be than what it can be. Their definitions of what constitutes a photograph are usually based upon self-imposed limitations. My advice is to ignore them completely as they usually have little, if any, basis for the comment. As I'm fond of saying - "Self limitation by self definition."
    I like abstract work as it is about a different facet of what a photograph or photographically generated image can be. I have to wonder what a person who makes that kind of a statement would say about Man Ray, Aaron Siskind, or Bret Weston.
    Attached is a photograph - yes, a photograph that is also abstract yet generated from a tangible object - a rail car in the siding at Ely, NV. Just keep doing whatever you want to do. Photography is about exploration and not being stuck in paradigms about constitutes a photograph.
    00WFdr-236965584.jpg
     
  12. jtk

    jtk

    It's fun to compare Fred's "Mission Creek" (could be a popular postcard) with Steve's "Rail Car" ( little postcard potential). Two very successful images, but poles apart.
    For me their labels tell significant and perhaps unintended stories.
    Fred's label would be useful to a tourist (like Japanese woodblock views of Fuji ) whereas Steve's is an unimportant, factual explanation (an abstract painter might just have given it a number, or a cryptic title)...
    Because Fred's is first (IMO) a pretty scene, the label didn't matter much to me, is OK...it's fun that I know where Mission Creek is.
    Contrast that to my response to Steve's LESS abstracted (not "abstract"), photographically 100% realistic image, which was hurt a bit when I read the label (or by my instant-delayed recognition of "what" I was seeing): although it's obviously paint on rusted metal my FIRST and instantaneous response was much stronger: the painted numbers first seemed teeth, dripping blood (white!) in a violent, beaten image. Silly, huh? But a moment later, the label reduced it a half notch to wonderful beauty in something immediately understood, more conventional.
     
  13. jtk

    jtk

    I find that labels often "limit" responses to photographs, like Steve's " "Self limitation by self definition."
    Seems to me that genuine "abstract" work, as opposed to graphic/decorative work, tends not to be labeled with "explanations."
     
  14. jtk

    jtk

    "He wants you to think about what you do and don't understand and why." - JH
    Yes, that echos my point about labels.
    Seeking "understanding" (ie. verbal interpretation) one's attention is diverted from from one's first, most direct visual/emotional response.
    That's the same as finding "meaning" in the non-verbal: "meaning" is inherently a second or third level removed from first response, which makes it additionally distant from the work-as-created.
    What are we to "understand" when we enjoy a violin solo? How close is that "understanding" to the essence of the music?
    I'm always amazed at the temerity in purporting to verbally "understand" what an author or photographer or dancer "meant" by the work.
    Referring to Steve's image, I tried to describe my response to the image. I didn't claim to "understand" until I noticed the label ("rail car"), and that secondary "understanding" took a little joy from my first experience of the image.
    Some photographers find the responses of strangers to their work, especially "artistically" inarticulate and photographically unsophisticated strangers, enlightening.
    (fwiw to seek random responses from a dozen random strangers, on the street, was one of Minor White's formal instructional assignments..I was given it by one of his students...wasn't fun at the time).
     
  15. John, I can relate to your experience of Steve's title and my title. Though we have both provided identifying labels, because his is abstract (though not 100%), I think his title does work a bit differently. I think the nuance you bring out in that first post is significant. I'd be curious to know Steve's reaction. I agree with you that my title in this instance (as in most cases for me) is a throwaway and also understand the little thrill you got because you know the place. I've thought it would make an interesting thread to discuss how much there is in photos that will never reach a universal audience but will reach a very select part of the audience similarly and how "special" a feeling it is when one knows one might be one of a select few "getting" something.
    As for your last post, again I think you draw an important distinction between "response" and "understanding." We've talked before about the different kinds of reactions to a photo: emotional response, interpretation, etc. I'm with you in often thinking that interpretations can feel more imposed and initial emotional responses can feel more immediate and genuine. But I wonder if Steve might have wanted you to experience something like you experienced. An initial response followed by a change due to a certain revelation. That juxtaposition of experience itself could be a significant eye-opener.
    We discussed Goya recently. Would his paintings be as rich if we were just responding initially to them and not going to a level of understanding the paintings' relationship to its culture and the events of history?
    When folks interpret, that doesn't mean they let the interpretation impinge on their initial response to the photo. The interpretation may come much later and, without detracting from the initial response, the understanding may add quite a bit of depth to the continuing experience. As I think you've stated before, and I certainly find it to be the case, the experience of a photograph doesn't end when I leave the gallery.
     
  16. Fred: I took a long, concentrated look at Gordon's photograph. (Thanks for the link.) Before going to the comments below, what I noticed was an interesting interplay of lines amidst various shades of brown. Interestingly, Gordon's own comment involved an identification of the subject of the photograph, despite the fact that Ton's comments did not even come close to discussing a subject.
    Arthur: I agree that the viewer of a really good piece of art, whether photographic or otherwise, could care less about the manner by which it was produced. And I have no quarrel with applying usual photographic standards indeed do apply to abstracts as well as landscapes, portraits, street shots, etc. Did my original post even suggest otherwise?
    Allen, Steve, John, and Julie: I too tend to feel that the only limits that are, or can be placed on a photographer are those of his/her own creativity. Fred put it well in drawing the distinction between abstract and graphic.
    Whether an abstract photograph does not contain an identifiable subject at all, or whether the photographer has attempted in some way to alter that subject, to me the viewer is placed in a position of placing his/her interpretation above his/her initial response. (Thanks, Fred, for the elucidation on this point.)
     
  17. Michael, sure, except I don't come to the same conclusion as you do in your last paragraph. I think sometimes some viewers will place their interpretation above their initial response and I think sometimes some viewers will prefer and give priority to their initial response. Why or how do you come to the conclusion that abstracts will place the viewer in the position of prioritizing the interpretation?
    I will, more often than not, react to abstracts more sensually than interpretively. I don't often wonder what I am looking at, as if making faces or animals out of cloud formations. I stay with the lines, shapes, colors, shadows, transparency, depth, layers as they are. I feel them. They express, often without the need for meaning.
     
  18. jtk

    jtk

    "I too tend to feel that the only limits that are, or can be placed on a photographer are those of his/her own creativity." - Michael L
    that's not quite how I "feel" ...
    Photographers, like everyone else, are either/both limited and supercharged by their individual skills, aspirations, life experiences, education and social class, financial circumstances, and accidents such as biological gifts or curses. They are limited by bad luck and bolstered by good luck, foolishness or wisdom, fearlessness or cowardice. Their egos can drive them forward or cripple them.
    "Creativity," if it's a real characteristic, is nothing by comparison.
    Goya, Fred's reference point, or Picasso, were anomolies, "gifted" (or cursed), wildly lucky or unlucky, nearly deities. If you disagree with that, perhaps you'll agree that they more properly deserve their places in history than do "creative photographers" in general. I think we degrade big values (such as the notion of "creativity") by assigning them carelessly.
    I know nothing about Goya's ego or labor, but Picasso was an obsessively HARD WORKER with a gigantic ego. He knew from the start that he was a superior person and that in addition to his gifts, he earned further superiority (a Calvanist-flavored point).
     
  19. perhaps you'll agree that they more properly deserve their places in history than do "creative photographers" in general. I think we degrade big values (such as the notion of "creativity") by assigning them carelessly.but Picasso was an obsessively HARD WORKER with a gigantic ego. He knew from the start that he was a superior person and that in addition to his gifts, he earned further superiority (a Calvanist-flavored point).​
    I wouldn't be so sure about that.


    "I myself, since the advent of Cubism, have fed these fellows what they wanted and satisfied these critics with all the ridiculous ideas that have passed through my mind. The less they understood them, the more they admired me. Through amusing myself with all these absurd farces, I became celebrated, and very rapidly. For a painter, celebrity means sales and consequent affluence. Today, as you know, I am celebrated, I am rich. But when I am alone, I do not have the effrontery to consider myself an artist at all, not in the grand old meaning of the word: Giotto, Titian, Rembrandt, Goya were great painters. I am only a public clown - a mountebank. I have understood my time and have exploited the imbecility, the vanity, the greed of my contemporaries. It is a bitter confession, this confession of mine, more painful than it may seem. But at least and at last it does have the merit of being honest."
    (Pablo Picasso, 1952)
     
  20. Phylo, here's my take on what artists often say, especially about themselves:
    First of all, they can give us great insights into themselves through these words.
    BUT . . .
    There's a difference between honesty and accuracy. Picasso may have been extremely honest in this assessment but also might have been totally wrong.
    Or he might have just been prone to self-effacement in his writings. Or he was down on himself that day, or in the mood to be disingenuously humble for some reason.
    I always take artists' writings with a grain of salt. What they say about themselves is but one piece in a much larger puzzle. They can often be purposely evasive, preferring to pull written jokes on the world in an attempt not to be easily understood. For some, it may make their art of greater purpose than what they can say in words. Some simply don't have a good handle on themselves or a good facility with words despite being adept at their art.
    Of course, as you do, I disagree with John's characterization of creative photographers.
     
  21. jtk

    jtk

    Phylo, surely you've seen the films of Picasso at work, the descriptions of him by other painters and by writers, the evidence in correspondence that he had to work at humility to get down to Matisse's level ?
    I think Picasso needed to flaunt his superiority over Matisse, hence their long and unequal "competiton." That he doubted his superiority was, IMO, BS, self aggrandizing posturing. Great men are just as likely to lie and self-aggrandize as small men.
    That in 1952 he claimed (your quote) he didn't think himself superior was a comical posture, absurd on its face. And, from his painted jesters, he certainly did think himself a clown. An equivalently great "artist" of the 20th century was James Joyce, who evidently thought Charlie Chaplin, a clown, might be a similarly great artist.
    As to Picasso's doubt about his worthiness in "art," my view and probably his is that "art" is ephemeral , most significant when its achievement is failed. Art is valid as a goal, dubious as an achievement. It relates to religious ideas such as "muse" rather than to most actual work.
     
  22. I see "muse" not as religious but as holistic. For me, it's more about reciprocity between me and the world than about something mystical or spiritual. One can look at the ancients as religious and one can look at them also as profoundly in touch with (intimate with) their natural surroundings. They had an adeptness at getting outside themselves (though not to the exclusion of themselves).
     
  23. jtk

    jtk

    Fred, you evidently disagree with my thoughts on "creative" ... I obviously didn't express those thoughts in relation to photographers alone. There have always been plenty of dubiously "creative" writers and painters as well....
    Here it what I said :
    "Photographers, like everyone else, are either/both limited and supercharged by their individual skills, aspirations, life experiences, education and social class, financial circumstances, and accidents such as biological gifts or curses. They are limited by bad luck and bolstered by good luck, foolishness or wisdom, fearlessness or cowardice. Their egos can drive them forward or cripple them.
    "Creativity," if it's a real characteristic, is nothing by comparison."
    Fred, where do we differ?
    Am I not accepting enough of everyone's equality? Insufficient kumbayah?
    Do I attribute too much importance to observable accomplishment?
     
  24. I like everything you said except "Creativity, if it's a real characteristic, is nothing by comparison."
    No, I wasn't concerned that you were limiting your comments to creative photographers. I know you are an equal opportunity detractor of "creative." ;))))
    All those things you mention are significant (skill, limits, life experience, accident, etc.) and I understand you to think they are not often emphasized enough here. I applaud you for emphasizing them and getting them into the dialogue because I think the discussions sometimes lose sight of them. In order to emphasize them and get them into the dialogue, however, I don't think they have to be elevated above with "creativity." I think all these qualities exist in tandem, reciprocally, and symbiotically. They can also exist with various tensions among them, but those tensions don't result in a hierarchy, IMO.
     
  25. Addendum to John: As for kumbayah, don't sell yourself short. Your description above of your reaction to Steve's photo being undercut a notch by your understanding kicking in due to his title could be seen as a John Kelly kumbayah moment. I was kvelling!
     
  26. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    For me, the most interesting abstractions in photography are more like the Rail Car one, where the abstraction is haunted by the representational and vice versa. I can do pure abstractions in ray tracing software. Why not use the medium's strengths fully than do something that's more incoherent? And I like ray tracking abstractions as well as painted ones, but photographic ones tend to bore me more often than not, unless they're playing with the special attributes of photography.
     
  27. Abstraction is poetry without the need for words. Not all photographs are poetic, those that are gravitate more towards the abstract I think, or differently put, the abstract is the gravitational force that can render a photograph poetic more so than prosaic. Perhaps the best of photographs are a combination of both, like Weston's nude ?
     
  28. Great point, Phylo. Even the most narrative and representational photographs can have and use abstraction. It's a significant tool.
     
  29. I like the last portrait that you uploaded Fred, it seems so effortlessly layered, and yet it is exactly through such layers that tension is mostly revealed and the photograph rewarded with. The layers seem abstract more than the subject in many of your portraits.
    Your bio begins that you like to photograph people and their stories, as naturally evidenced in your many layered portraits. But, people and their stories, so where are the women ?, just throw a few of them in the mix : )
    Because, I'm really curious in what way you would portray women, the way you photograph men.
     
  30. Phylo, I'm workin' on it . . .
    And thanks!
     
  31. "Why or how do you come to the conclusion that abstracts will place the viewer in the position of prioritizing the interpretation?" Fred, I suspect my use of 'interpretation' may be a bit broader than yours. When used in a hermeutic sense, it encompasses finding meaning on different levels.
    Whenever a viewer looks at a photograph, regardless of the genre, doesn't he/she try making sense out of, or finding meaning in it? In many instances, this is quite easy, since the subject or context of the photograph is readily identifiable. In other cases, such as abstracts, this task is much more difficult.
     
  32. "Creativity," if it's a real characteristic, is nothing by comparison. John, I wholeheartedly agree that there are a number of factors that may influence a photographer's work. You provided an excellent account of what they may be. However, from the fact that my childhood may influence me to root for the underdog because I have a so-called victim's mentality, it does not follow that I am limited in doing so.
     
  33. Phylo: I agree with Fred; your point was very well put. Narrative/representational photographs and abstracts need not be mutually exclusive.
     
  34. Michael, I hope I understand your usage, yes. My use of "interpretation" is also broad and exists on various levels. Interpretation, even in a hermeneutic sense, is still related to understanding . . . as you, yourself, say, finding meaning on different levels.
    I often don't approach abstracts for their meaning or my understanding. It is more sensual, more strictly visual.
    I often allow the sensuality and visual/emotional reaction primacy even when viewing a more narrative or subject-oriented photo. I often wait a while to look for and find meaning and to understand. This may speak to Phylo's point. The abstract aspects of many narrative photos will often hit me first, prior to meaning and understanding. Then I will most likely move toward understanding as well.
     
  35. I feel abstract art and abstraction speak quite differently. Abstract art (or photography) ideally means something separate from matter. Phylo states that "abstraction is poetry without the need for words." Sometimes, yes, but not always, I think. That phrase can encompass many things. Abstraction is withdrawal or stripping an idea of its concrete accompaniments. Not prosaic, but certainly not always poetic.
    The Weston nudes are often abstractions, the image taken outside of its normal concreteness. Much so-called abstract photography is like that as well, but I feel that abstract art goes well beyond such abstractions and into a realm of "separate from matter". You don't recognize any concrete elements (body, structures, etc.) but the image is composed of form, light, colour, composition, texture and accordingly invoked emotions orsentiments that speak from pure idea and extremely little (and usually) no concrete matter. Separate from matter. Another world of visual communication.
     
  36. jtk

    jtk

    "Whenever a viewer looks at a photograph, regardless of the genre, doesn't he/she try making sense out of, or finding meaning in it? "
    Some do.
    Some don't until they've paused simply to taste what's been offered to them.
    The difference may have to do with personal discipline, as in Zen practice.
    Or it may have to do with humility: who would start by assuming they are in a position to "make sense" or "find meaning" in someone else's work?
     
  37. jtk

    jtk

    "The Weston nudes are often abstractions, the image taken outside of its normal concreteness. "

    The nudes to which you may be referring are commonly spoken of as Weston's most erotic... like his peppers. I find them compellingly and specifically female (the peppers are as literally female as the women). Beautiful lighting of his forms intensifies and defines the "matters" at hand. Far from abstract. YMMV
    Other than his symbol-cramped anti-war, gas masked nudes, I can't think of a Weston image that isn't devoted to some sort of essential photographic truth about the physical nature of a very real subject. I don't think that's "abstraction" or "abstract."
     
  38. John, I don't see what humility has to do with whether one begins with a taste or with understanding. Trying to understand someone else is not presumptuous. It's actually pretty human and social. I can relate better to your other suggestion: personal discipline.
    We seem both to begin by tasting. It's the way I have developed (honed) my seeing and my own accepting of what others show me. But I imagine it is also with personal discipline that others move first to their understanding, whereupon the fruit may taste even sweeter once they bite.
    "Practice," I think you're suggesting and I agree, is a form of discipline. My main experience with practice is playing the piano. I know from that experience that "practice" without understanding only gets me so far. I can just go over the same passages and pieces and learn them by rote, or I can practice with intention and understanding and add depth.
     
  39. John, just saw your second post. Another great perspective.
    Weston's images seem to me also to be devoted to photographic views of the physical nature of real subjects and they also seem to be about light, shadow, and texture. From a certain and significant perspective I adopt, the subject is the light, shadow, and texture . . . and the pepper may recede. Peppers tend to be more peppery when I see them in cookbooks. When I see them in photography books, they can, from this perspective I adopt, be not as much essentially peppers.
    What is the essence of a pepper? It changes depending on the situation (so it's not really an essence, IMO). At the dinner table, an essential element is taste and, of course, that they are edible. In the photography book or hanging on the gallery wall, not so much.
    Peppers are green, red, and yellow. Weston's photographs are black, white, and gray. The photograph is a picture and not the thing it is a picture of.
     
  40. I partially agree with John. For me, none of the Weston nudes -- not one, ever -- is abstract. Quite the polar opposite. In an abstract picture, the identity of the content is either of no or of secondary/minor importance. In Weston's nudes the fact that we are looking at woman is primary, essential, THE essence, the origin of what that picture is or is capable of being/doing.
    On the other hand, I disagree where John (indirectly seems to) says that Weston never did abstracts. His well-known Burned Car (I am not linking but is easily found); many of his pictures of patterns in the Point Lobos rock; some of his kelp/seaweed photos; cracked earth in the desert; his graffiti and cracked plaster pictures from Hornitos, and so on. You can find Weston abstracts, but they a minority (the gas mask pictrue of Charis is not only not abstract; it's satire which is polar opposite. It depends on your seeing that this IS a nude woman in a gas mask.)
    The most abstract Weston that I can find in the fifteen minutes I've spent looking through my references is his well-known side view of a bed pan. It's the most nearly de-identified thing (the Point Lobos rocks and the others noted above all retain considerable content-identity when seen large; texture and fullness, etc. that localizes the stuff).
    http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1987.1100.134
    Last, I have to just note because I feel so strongly about it, I absolutely, completely disagree with Phylo's statement above:
    "Not all photographs are poetic, those that are gravitate more towards the abstract I think, or differently put, the abstract is the gravitational force that can render a photograph poetic more so than prosaic."​
    Either I have a completely different conception of what poetry is than does Phylo, or my experience of non-abstract photography is entirely different. There is no necessary connection or correlation whatsoever between poetic-ness and abstractness.
     
  41. Again, if you are not tired of hearing my re-assertion of it, I believe that "abstract" and "abstraction" are quite different. As Fred implies, B&W is an abstraction from reality, just as a Weston pepper, which I believe is is true. Where I choose to disagree with him is his comment that it is a picture and not the thing it is a picture of. That does not make it "abstract" but simply an "abstraction" or a withdrawal of some of its idea from its concrete accompaniements. We still fully recognize the pepper, but its idea or message is transformed to a female form. But it is not an abstract work.
    In referring to my comment "The Weston nudes are often abstractions, the image taken outside of its normal concreteness" John finishes by saying "I can't think of a Weston image that isn't devoted to some sort of essential photographic truth about the physical nature of a very real subject. I don't think that's "abstraction" or "abstract." Julie agrees with that comment in her post, in stating that the Weston nudes are images of beautiful women, period.
    In a contrary view, I think that The Weston nudes are as much abstractions as his peppers, where the photographer is withdrawing some (but not much, I admit) of the "generally perceivable reality" of the subject and providing (substituting?) his own consciousness of beauty or form or emotion? The term "GPR" may be a bit sticky one to accept, but isn't art photography simply about the photographer playing with a reality normally perceived by his fellows and making it into something that one can perceive as art? De-constructing to re-construct, sometimes poetically, sometimes not.
    The photo of the Weston bed pan is also simply an "abstraction" from the normally perceived reality of its concrete form and function, but not an "abstract" in my mind. Does it qualify as "separate from matter"? I don't think so. I partially disagree with Phylo and partially agree with Julie that the quality of abstract does not (necessarily!) make something poetic. It all depends on the context. I have shot abstractions of concrete elements that are not poetic but simply graphic or something else, and I think much of what passes as "abstract" is simply "abstraction" and not poetic. But some "abstractions" and many "abstracts" are. This is equally true, if not more so, for poetic figurative photography, in which the photographer is showing us reality in his or her manner of seeing.
     
  42. Arthur, I did say that "it is a picture and not the thing it is a picture of." I DID NOT say that makes it abstract. Nothing of the kind. I'm saying it's a picture and not a pepper. But, of course, it's a picture of a pepper. It is not an abstract picture.
    Look at my post of Apr. 17 at 7:01 PM and you'll see you and I are saying very similar things:
    "Even the most narrative and representational photographs can have and use abstraction. It's a significant tool."
     
  43. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Abstraction and representation are the equivalents in photography of the features of some math chart where things approach but never arrive. Representation haunts the most abstract photography (why the choice, what is the initial object will always be part of an abstract photograph in a way that it's never part of an abstract ray tracing or painting). Abstraction in photography is obvious -- we're not doing matter replication here.
     
  44. Fred, thanks for the clarification. I assumed you were suggesting it wasn't an image of a pepper but something else. Your April 17 statement is also very relevant.
    The on-going discussion about the meaning of and use of the terms abstracts, abstractions, representational images, separate from matter, visual poetry, and other terms, is a beneficial one I think.
    Rebecca, I just saw your insightful comment including "why the choice, what is the initial object will always be part of an abstract photograph in a way that it's never part of an abstract ray tracing or painting". Do you not think it is possible for an abstract photo to be made in a manner than no recognizable "shadow" of the original object is possible? I will try to find one, or perhaps you could check one or the other of my stained glass light on wall reflections (e.g., Hommage to Monet?).
     
  45. "I often allow the sensuality and visual/emotional reaction primacy even when viewing a more narrative or subject-oriented photo. I often wait a while to look for and find meaning and to understand."
    Fred, are you referring to a temporal or a logical sequence? Does the reaction simply occur before finding meaning, or is there some sort of logical priority?
     
  46. Arthur, glad we cleared that up. My point has been that an image of a pepper does not have to make pepperness the primary motivator of my response. As I said to John, I may react more strongly to light, texture, and shape than to "pepper."
    IMO, the essence of a picture of a pepper (and it's questionable whether there is an essence in the fixed and universal way the term is generally used) is different from the essence of a pepper.
    I also like Rebecca's "we're not doing matter replication." I'm not sure about the abstract photograph being haunted by representation. It can be, in many instances. If I think about it, yes, I know the photograph is of something, but in some instances of abstract photographs, I'm not at all moved to think like that. I simply take it in and I see what's there, without thinking about what it "really" is. Similarly with narrative photos: I may be moved sometimes to wonder what the scene was "really" like at the time of shooting or may simply view the photograph and not wonder about the matter that supplied the raw material for the photo. Sometimes, I accept the photograph as the whole thing I'm looking at.
     
  47. Michael, both. It's temporal. And I'd probably prefer to say it's visual, not logical. But the way you're using "logical," I'd probably say it's logical as well. Often (not always) the more significant aspect of what I experience in an abstract is the sensual over the conceptual. In those cases, I don't go to "what is it?" or "what does it mean?" Sometimes, something in the photo seems to be asking or suggesting I go there or I just naturally will.
     
  48. jtk

    jtk

    Everyone's mileage will vary, but it seems telling that any human would think of Weston's nudes, any of them, as "abstracts."
    We may have discovered a diagnostic tool in Weston's nudes. :)
     
  49. "it seems telling"
    What do you think it would tell if it were the case that someone had actually said it?
     
  50. In an abstract picture, the identity of the content is either of no or of secondary/minor importance. In Weston's nudes the fact that we are looking at woman is primary, essential, THE essence, the origin of what that picture is or is capable of being/doing. - Julie​
    To me Weston wasn't so much only looking at women through his lens, just like I'm not merely looking at women in his nudes. He was looking for, and seeing an almost limitless display of play of light and lines and forms and textures of and by his nudes, rendered to be looked at in a photograph. Weston gives the lines and forms of his peppers the same photographic celebration as his nudes. So, in many of Weston's nudes the fact that we are looking at a photographic language is of a same important essence, an essence not any differently revealed through and by his other subjects. I'm talking about the photograph - as that which makes a certain abstraction possible - not the subject of the photograph.
    http://i37.photobucket.com/albums/e94/tobymutz101/weston-pepper-nude.jpg
     
  51. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Treble post. Something was leaning against one of the keys.
     
  52. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Arthur, yes, I think I'm curious about what the Monet photographs come from. I think we have to be educated out of looking for representation, and this goes beyond photography. People look for figures in clouds, and some of the cave painting appear to be taking a cave feature that suggests the line of a bison's back and drawing in the more complete figure.
    Even this is haunted by representationalism and it's not a photograph, though the programs that created it play with photographicness (camera analog and light source analogues).
    http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2686/4535596309_46f55044a2_o.jpg
     
  53. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Double post.
     
  54. Rebecca, I agree with you that we really have to be "educated out of" seeking the figurative or representational elements. Most of our existence has been dealing with those representational sights. It may be partly for our safety and for our daily navigation in and interpretation of an objects world, but art, like poetry, does prefer a less "handicapped" view. People are always looking for recognizable elements in purely abstract paintings in my seasonal gallery. I make the error, too, when I sometimes wish to give an abstract painting a meaning other than what it is, and even if there are no recognizable elements there to cloud the issue. Same for Mahler's first symphony, or a Sibelius tone poem (Finlandia, or the Swan of T, ...) or Berlioz's Symphony fantastique. Yes, some of the composers describe their physical experiences in writing the music, but the latter essentially needs to be taken in regard to its musical form and the emotions it can create in the listener, and not "a day in the forest" image, or whatever.
    A graphic designer will probably seek out the graphic constructs of your picture example, whereas the photographer will likely wonder what type of object he is looking at. In my "Monet" photo, the texture of the wall is there, as well as the abstract colour forms (I did choose the juxtaposition of forms and colours, as the light changed, of course), but it is not of a very recognizable pattern. in fact, if you didn't know it to be a wall, or the colours those of light projected through a stained glass window, it could be a food surface, gravel, some wooly textile or whatever. The more hidden those signs are, the better. They are at best only distracting to the image.
    "I'm talking about the photograph - as that which makes a certain abstraction possible - not the subject of the photograph." Right on, Phylo. A very good defintion, I believe, of the power of abstraction.
     
  55. John typed: it seems telling that any human would think of Weston's nudes, any of them, as "abstracts."
    We may have discovered a diagnostic tool in Weston's nudes. :)"
    Fred followed up with:
    "What do you think it would tell if it were the case that someone had actually said it?"
    _______________________________________
    Fred...were you baiting JK? Surely you must know lots of humans have, and Arthur knew what he was talking about...
    "Weston's treatment of the human body also underwent significant changes as he ventured deeper into modernism. A series of nudes taken in 1934 features sharply focused images that address the female body -- and specific parts of the body -- both abstract and sensual."
    and...

    "The Akron show, instead, focuses on nudes as another branch of
    the artist's search for abstraction, simplification and refinement."
    and...
    "Kleiman compared the image to Weston’s nudes, citing the abstraction of both."
    and...
    "One could see in this image a synthesis of several famous pictures by the master in abstraction Edward Weston (1886-1958): the series ‘Dunes, Oceano, 1936’ and ‘Nude on Sand, Oceano, 1936’."
    and....I could go on and on...but you get the point.
    So...what does it tell?
    _________________________________
     
  56. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Arthur, I'm not quite sure what the purpose of the educating out of a craving for mimesis is about, and as someone who did her share of fairly abstract poems in the day, as well as some fairly abstract art, I don't feel particularly squeamish about thinking escaping being haunted by representation is like going faster than the speed of light. My guess on the Monet photograph was cement surface with lights -- and apparently I wasn't that far off, though I thought the lighting had been more composed. Thing is that you can push the mimetic projections down to a tiny fraction of what gives us pleasure in a work, but I'm still not convinced they can be removed and I think playing with the Mark I HumanVisualCortex can be fun. If you could eliminate that tension through discipline, I'm not sure you haven't lost something.
    And, yes, I do like Jackson Pollack, where the mimesis is a proprioceptive sympathy for the actions, not anything in the painting.
     
  57. Luis, I was not baiting JK. I honestly would like to know what he thinks the fact that someone sees Weston's nudes as abstracts (or abstractly) would tell him. Yes, Luis, of course, I know people who would think of the nudes as absracts. I do myself, to some extent. (I'm sure you've read my posts where I've said that I can see all photographs abstractly.) I think we're observant and studied people, people who are able to see beyond subject when we want to. I just wanted John to explain himself.
    It's clear that John thinks the subject matter is primary and essential in Weston's nudes and peppers. I understand and respect that. But I don't understand what John thinks he can tell about those who see these photographs differently.
     
  58. Rebecca, I'm not sure I grasp your point about mimicking or mimesis, when I really was focusing rather on the desire to reduce any similitude betwen the objects used to make the image (e.g., articles in mixed media abstract painting, or representational objects in abstract photography) rather than to underline their physical correspndence. In attempting to "separate from matter" which is the basis of abstract art, mimesis is usually not in the cards. Please correct me if i am wrong, or if I misinterpreted your comments.
    (The canvass of my series of Monet garden abstract images are 13th century worn interior church walls in Berry, - Indre et Loire - France, and the continually moving spots of red, blue, yellow and other were projected light beams of the sun shining through the window and focusing on an interior wall. Fun to spend an hour or so with camera on a tripod and waiting for the light to mix into different forms during that period and choosing the instantaneous but alleatory compositions of personal visual interest).
     
  59. thorough consideration.
    thanks
     
  60. "Regardless, my aim is to encourage a viewer, if not to force a viewer, to suspend the use of ordinary categories by which subjects are identified and to view the photograph from a totally different point of view. That, in a nutshell, is my take on the nature of abstract photography.
    Your thoughts, please . . . ?
    I agree. Here are a couple of examples of my "abstracts."
    00WHRr-237827584.jpg
     
  61. Ice Comets
    00WHRu-237827784.jpg
     
  62. Fred, I knew you weren't baiting, it's not your style. We agree on everything else.
     
  63. John, you actually have asked me several questions lately in these forums which I've tried to answer substantively (the Goya thread and this thread). I asked you above about humility above (your idea that seeking meaning in a photo does not display humility) and now I've asked what's telling about someone seeing abstraction or abstract in a Weston nude. I hope you'll answer. Thanks.
     
  64. Steve, though I see the abstraction in each of your two photos, particularly the first one doesn't necessarily move me to suspend normal categories of subject identification. Let me qualify that by saying that a photo of ANYTHING, ANY PHOTO, if I choose to look at it that way (and I often do) allows me to suspend normal categories of subject identification. But the first photo you posted doesn't do it any more than most other photos. I am immediately aware it's a sheer curtain. I see the abstract qualities (the design elements) but remain conscious of it as "curtain."
     
  65. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Arthur, I thought that the counter example to my argument was textiles, which tend to be graphic without being necessarily about anything. Also, some cultures ban mimesis (imitation) and use abstract designs. I'm still not completely convinced that photography is the best medium for abstractions, or that it can escape the conditions of its creation where the lens is pointed at something, whether that something is in or out of focus. Photo collages are another matter, but Julie's collages put the identifiable in considerable tension with the design, and that tension seems to be what give her works their energy.
    Rail Car is now you see it, now you don't, and the texture has its own visual attractions.
     
  66. "I'm still not completely convinced that photography is the best medium for abstractions, or that it can escape the conditions of its creation where the lens is pointed at something" --Rebecca
    I understand what you're saying but would probably respond by saying that photography is the best medium for what it does. Precisely because it may not escape (or escapes in a different and incomplete manner) the conditions of its creations, photography may be a great medium for abstraction. It allows the good abstract photographer (and maybe "abstract photographer" is not the best description . . . perhaps "abstracting photographer" or "photographer of abstraction") to play with his own, the camera's, and the viewers expectations. The photographer may be in a unique position to insist that he, himself, as well as the viewer see the inherent abstraction in all subjects. The binding of the abstraction to the identifiable or surmisable subject may act to emphasize and even free the abstraction in a way that its lack of definition in a strictly abstract painting may not. That one can turn the world into an abstract through perspective, close-up, motion blur, etc. (in a photograph) is a very different but just as creative and telling an accomplishment as making the abstract from only lines, shapes, and colors with no subject at all (as in a painting). Each medium's so-called limits are often where creativity and enlightenment begin.
     
  67. Whatever the limitations of a medium may be, they're minor compared to the limitations of those who use them.
     
  68. jtk

    jtk

    Fred, I don't think you were "baiting" me.
    1) "diagnosis": Apollonian vs Dionysian. We all know what such a diagnosis might imply, right?

    2) It was easy, but mistaken to guess that I "see" (by which you seem to mean "interpret") Weston's nudes and peppers as photographs "of" their subjects. Close, no cigar.
    I first (and enduringly) respond to them as sensual.

    I subsequently "think about" them (rather than see-and-respond) in various other ways. For example, I also think of them in the context of the man's life, as may be known from his Daybooks. Yes, they can also be considered as graphics or as demonstrations of technique...."abstract" aspects can be identified (for who knows what purpose)...but IMO such characteristics are doted on that way only if one is driven to avoid what I think were Weston's intentions.
    Appolonian analysis/description does not seem to ME to be Weston's intention..I think he envisioned something closer to Dionysian. I think Appolonian vs Dionysian can be understood in genetic or lifetime-developed-habit terms, but I doubt someone who responds first as A will commonly be able gracefully to respond as D.
    3) Any image can be "abstracted"or seen abstractly...it's often done with images too weak to stand on their own ... weird filters, solarization, hyped contrast, reversal etc etc etc... I don't think being "abstracted" connects them to the general high-tone understanding of "abstract art"..."abstract photograph" is usually a non-representational decorative image with no pretentions of weight or significance.
     
  69. jtk

    jtk

    ... "responding with humility": responding without projecting one's interpretations or analysis onto someone else's work. If a violinist was playing, I think humility would allow closer listening, even if one was highly educated and sophisticated about the music.
    I know a psychiatrist who sees everything in psychoanalytic terms. When I told him he was projecting his favorite concepts on the world, he didn't understand..his particular school of psychiatry isn't interested in projection :) A psychiatrist is, according to Alan Watts, a magical authority...like a shaman or priest...or Zen master. That means he is especially skilled at convincing others that his understandings are "right"
     
  70. Humility is just another projection if it is to be humble. Real humility = emptiness, which might as well be what abstraction is all about.
     
  71. John, thanks for the clarification. Maybe we do agree about interpretation. A little fleshing out helped. To add something, I think all interpretation is not projecting. I may think about and interpret what I see without projecting that onto the photograph or photographer in question. People seem to enjoy interpreting my work all the time, but they will often add a qualification like, "I doubt you intended it this way, but . . . this is how I see it." I love hearing that stuff and I love hearing how they feel when they look at a photograph of mine. Like you, I also can find that "interpretations" can miss the point.
    This:
    "but IMO such characteristics are doted on that way only if one is driven to avoid what I think were Weston's intention . . ."
    . . . is probably grist for another thread. Sometimes, as a viewer, the photographer's/artist's intentions seem significant to me and sometimes I just don't care and I see what's in the photo or painting or hear what's in the music itself as if it were unrelated to a maker. I've said I "own" my own photographs, and I love it when I feel I "own" a photograph or piece of art I'm looking at or piece of music I'm listening to that was made by someone else. Ownership can be found in that mystifying relationship I have with the work itself on one hand and the work as a product of the maker on the other.
     
  72. "Whatever the limitations of a medium may be, they're minor compared to the limitations of those who use them."
    An important notion, Luis, and it should remind us not to put painting, writing, scuplture, architecture or photography in straight jackets, with borders or limited depth. What Weston or Brandt or Brancusi or Piranesi or Wren did in their time may be cutting edge for that time, but I am convinced that (say) Weston or Brandt would happily acknowledge, if they were here, that much greater possibilities exist in their medium than they explored and achieved. That the progress from theirwork may not be rapid, or is sometimes backward leaning, is not the fault of the medium but of the state of art and artists at any one time.
    Rebecca, I understand and appreciate your point and your skepticism about photography being able to go beyond abstraction and into the pure abstract (my reformulation or extension of your point). It IS difficult to make an artful abstract of matter, and be largely separate from it, given the tendency of the method (lens on subject, versus brush on canvass or pen on paper), but therein lies the challenge and the potential that has yet to be explored completely and creatively. I was looking today at the work of an abstract artist interested in exhibiting this summer. Her substrate is lathing removed from old plaster walls, cut up and re-assembled in various non-periodic forms and painted over with oils in abstract design. The matter composing the substrate is evident, but one forgets it. Pehaps the trick in abstract photography is not to hide the substrate, but to use it in a manner such that we forget it, in favour of other elements of form or colour that create the abstract.
     
  73. jtk

    jtk

    I want to comment on Steve Murray's beautiful, quiet images (above): I don't think they're at all "abstract."
    They're as far from "abstract" as they'd be if Steve had depicted semi-trucks or fashion models.
     
  74. "..."abstract photograph" is usually a non-representational decorative image with no pretentions of weight or significance. "

    So, John, let me see if I'm reading you correctly. By nature, an abstract photograph is both nonrepresentational and decorative. It also, by comparison with non-abstract photographs, has little weight or significance. If this is not a correct paraphrase, please let me know.
    On the other hand, if this is a correct paraphrase, we agree that abstracts are not necessarily representational. However, as has been shown earlier in this thread quite clearly by colleagues, at least some abstracts have one or more representational elements.
    "Decorative", "... "no pretentions of weight or significance... :" Your point here is that abstract photographs are nothing but fluff?
    Again, l it is quite possible that I misread your comments. Any clarification you can offer will be most appreciated.
     
  75. jtk

    jtk

    Michael,
    YMMV, but here's how I understand some of this matter :
    Lots of abstract work appeals to me at various levels and in various ways. "Abstract photography" is usually merely decorative, IMO, just as it seems intended to be.
    I didn't call it inferior
    , just as I wouldn't say Miley Cyrus is inferior to Edith Piaf. There's nothing wrong with fluff and there's little virtue in difficulty.
    Photographic abstraction processes can make inconsequential images interesting and decorative. That's a good thing, right?
     
  76. John - Thanks for your clarification. Now I better understanding your POV.
     
  77. On Weston's intentions and abstractions, in the man's own words, as may be known from his Daybooks...
    3/10/24, Mexico (At the time he was doing Tina nudes, Galvan's portrait, etc)
    "I see in my recent negatives...pleasant and beautiful abstractions..."

    and:
    "I shall let no chance pass by to record interesting abstractions..."
    1/28/32
    "No painter or sculptor can be wholly abstract."

    and:
    "I have proved through photography that that Nature has all the "abstract" (simplified) forms Brancusi or any other artist can imagine."
    [He still thought realism to be the medium's strong suit, but was not averse to abstractions, and thought some of his work abstract.]
    ____________________________________________________
     
  78. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Precisely because it may not escape (or escapes in a different and incomplete manner) the conditions of its creations, photography may be a great medium for abstraction. It allows the good abstract photographer (and maybe "abstract photographer" is not the best description . . . perhaps "abstracting photographer" or "photographer of abstraction") to play with his own, the camera's, and the viewers expectations.​
    Arts live in the tensions of their mediums. Choosing photography as a way of creating an abstracted end work, I would like to see the artist use the bank shots effectively. Trying to emulated a ray tracing, not so much. Ray tracings are, though, as haunted by photography as photographs is haunted by representation.
    Totally pure abstraction -- why through away vectors of tension? Why not make a painting or a ray tracing, or hardcode a JPEG (I'm really waiting for someone to write graphics in bare JPEG).
     
  79. Thanks for the quotes Luis,
    I always found that of Weston's work, precisely the reason why I linked the Weston nudes. Didn't read the daybooks myself, one just has to look at the pictures with a little bit of imagination in reverse to distill a hidden intention of an abstraction, behind the no doubt piercingly representational subject of the photographs. Whether its done through nudes as the subject or not isn't really relevant. Minimalism.
     
  80. "Why not make a painting or a ray tracing,"
    I don't know. Why shouldn't we all dance or all have a family or all live in California? Why, indeed, don't we all do everything alike? Most importantly, why don't those damn British drive on our side of the road? Are you suggesting we predetermine the best usage(s) of each medium and stick to that? It would never have allowed Bach's great Violin Partita to be transcribed for the piano by Busoni. I much prefer it played on the violin but am glad it can be played on the piano, too. It makes the piece richer in my eyes and allows pianists to express themselves through it. Many prefer the piano version. I think the creative one gets to decide what he/she will do with the medium and I'm not sure how productive this sort of prejudging can be?
    "why through [sic] away vectors of tension?"
    I like tension . . . sometimes. Sometimes I'm looking for more calm or a more singular dimension. When I look at the work of others, I try not to be so needy . . . wanting wanting wanting. I try to give myself over to what they want. What I often don't like I can still appreciate.
     
  81. Michael-
    After looking at the portfolio you have presented for us, I have come to the conclusion that your work is not abstract photography, but rather photography that has been abstracted. It may be an afterthought, not necessarily the intent while shooting. This is not bad or wrong, it just is. While the work utilizes both graphic design and photographs, you are not creating photographs- you are making mixed media art works. (was 19th century pictorialism- sandwiching negatives etc. considered abstract?) Either way the abstract nature of the work is thought provoking, the intent of abstraction. I think it was Weston who spoke of photography freeing painters of having to try to capture the realism photography so readily offered- thusly opening the door to abstraction, a style intended to promote thought, introspection and a different sort of critical analysis. Has video's ability to capture reality, exponentially greater than photography's, freed photographers from having to portray realism, leading to more abstraction?
     
  82. "Abstract photography" is usually merely decorative. (John)
    If that is true (which I personally think not), then, wow, photography has a way to go yet and the windows of opportunity are wide open. Many see nothing in abstract painting and are probably therefore unable to equate compositions, point, line and form, colours, textures, contrasts, dynamics of forms (tensions, equilibria, etc.) and other elements to visual voices attempting to communicate with the viewer. The basic perception of design elements can be caused by the limitations of the work itself, or in better abstract work by the viewer's inability or a lack of willingness to perceive things separate from matter.
    Perhaps the nature of photography, its "realism anchor ", inhibits the mind exercise that recognizes these things and instead prefers the greater "comfort" of representational or quasi-representational objects that the photographer is schooled to appreciate. Perhaps an unfortunate consequence of too much familiarity with the medium.
     
  83. Martin: I suspect you are right in quite a few instances. The creation of an abstract photograph is not always my original intent, especially regarding those abstracts that are more heavily "graphic". But is this materially different than what may go through the mind of a photographer before, or at the time at which, any photograph is taken? I know some photographers take the position that camera work is the be-all and end-all of the photographic process. Yet my hunch is that this is just a matter of degree.
    Arthur: I think you just stated my case!
     
  84. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Fred, some of this is that most of the abstract photographs I've seen have been rather boring because they were trying to be paintings or textiles. We can crop art; we can't translate it into music the way we can transpose music from one instrument to another. We can translate a novel from one language to another, but we can't make a movie out of the whole thing -- it's another different work, and it succeeds or fails on the virtues of movies, not the virtue of the parent novel.
    Maybe abstractions are a form in themselves, but then what are the qualities of abstractions independent of how they're made?
     
  85. jtk

    jtk

    "... an unfortunate consequence of too much familiarity with the medium." - Arthur
    Arthur, that seems central to your broader perspective. It seems simultaneously to support my prejudice that "familiarity with the medium" might lead one away from lite work, toward something more significant.
    Are you saying that someone skilled might overlook the potential in his in lack of ability? Satisfaction with Photoshop abstractions might justify avoiding photographic ability? Lack of ability leads to an aesthetic positive?
    Might van Gogh or Picasso have "unfortunately" had "too much familiarity" to appreciate Surapa ?
    www.roadsideamerica.com/story/7018
     
  86. jtk

    jtk

    hmmm: Someone less "familiar" can overlook the potential in his in lack of ability. Satisfaction with Photoshop abstractions justifies avoidance of the risk taking involved traditionally in photography. Lack of familiarity leads to an aesthetic positive. Voila! There's a market for that in Wasilla!
     
  87. jtk

    jtk

    ".. the Weston nudes. Didn't read the daybooks myself, one just has to look at the pictures with a little bit of imagination in reverse to distill a hidden intention of an abstraction " :) :) fabulous :)
    My grandfather managed to make a little money during the Great Depression by caponizing chickens.
    He didn't use his "imagination in reverse to distill" anything "hidden," he neutered those roosters so they'd grow extra fat and get a better-than-hen price when he sold them to fancy San Francisco hotels :)
     
  88. I like what John and Arthur are addressing albeit from different perspectives: The significance of the medium to the work produced. (Topics for new threads abound, but let's leave this here for a bit.)
    I like exploring the unique aspects of the photographic medium. One is its dependence on reality for its raw materials. Like John, I see a lot of photographs (not just abstractions, by any means) as an escape from and a shallow denial of the medium. On the other hand, as I've said, I'm all for the freedom to do what I want with the so-called "limits", "restraints", or what we might simply call characteristics of the medium.
    Example: Blur is something I consider a prized possession of the photograph. When done well, it shows me an intimacy and familiarity with the medium. In other hands, it can be obvious and trite.
    When it comes to abstraction and particularly computer-generated abstraction, I would assess similarly. If I sense the denial and/or design aspects are transcending, a denial or design using the medium significantly to go beyond it or move it forward or express something genuine, or a denial effectively one-dimensional and purposefully rebellious, I can be moved. But when I feel like John in some instances that a use of the photographic medium is simply a way of avoiding the medium and avoiding familiarity or curiosity, I become bored.
    I wonder if and why certain genres of photography seem more prone to this kind of avoidance to me. Some of it is taste, but I think some of it is inherent to the specific genre or subject matter. I try to avoid making generalizations about genres and their pitfalls. In most cases, it's about the capabilities, sophistication, genuineness, and expressiveness of the person using the genre. The flaws I find usually lie with the maker and the specific photograph produced, not with the genre itself.
     
  89. Fred- nicely put.
    Personally, I'm big on intent. Having it and letting go of it, another form of intent I guess, really. I like to search for more from the medium- in every aspect.
    Part of the "concerns" surrounding abstraction are also skill level, which goes right to intent. I feel, the greater the skill of the photographer, the deeper the intentions- not necessarily more important, but more layers, more history- a more informed result. This doesn't mean the images get better, just the force behind them. Usually though, with better skills and greater intent, a photographer will get a "better" photo- at least for themselves.
     
  90. Sort of following up on Fred's last post (unless he slips in another while I'm typing, which he is wont to do), it's been my experience that I have often stumbled on really exciting new techniques or ways of seeing via shooting abstracts, things that aren't things. And I get so excited about this new texture or effect or whatever it is that in the old days I used to have a really hard time admitting to myself that it was a part, not a whole. I'd found something key, but it wasn't ... enough. It's my opinion that I see something like this in a lot of abstracts; to my eye, they don't work as whole pictures but I can see what excited the photographer. As an example, I offer one of my ice pictures (I bet you have some of these):
    [​IMG]
    I used to take tons of these, straining to make them stand up -- and they don't. They are a stage with no actors. (Conversely, I often get actors with no stage.) However, as a compositor, I get to collect all these bits that excite me and build them into wholes, which is a good thing because I don't seem to be able to stop taking ice pictures (and dew drops, but that's another story). I've used previous ice patterns under some of the pictures in my Red Line series, and I have a new pile of them waiting for who knows what; when the actors show up, I'll be ready.
     
  91. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Julie, it's just a different perspective on ice and rocks :).
     
  92. There is no spoon.
     
  93. There is no spoon.​
    Yes ! There is no spoon, there's only perception.
    " This scenario, where photography is linked to external events, is often repeated and it is something that I have always wanted to avoid. I want to take images that are of the very most humble and insignificant subject matter. Andre Kertesz once told me that a photographer "must learn to photogrpah everything". I hear his words today. Bereft of conventional notions of subjectivity there exists a photographic proximity best described as point blank. This quality is unique to photography, it has been described by the abstract expressionist painters in their theoritical text in a magazine called "IT IS". I yearn towards pure photography. I don't want to make a photograph, I want to make a photography. I think there's a level of content that hasn't been reached yet, but that is definitely attainable within the confines of the medium. I want to make the act of perception itself the subject of the photograph. - Ralph Gibson​
    I can definitely relate to what Gibson is saying here, in Refractions on the subject of Images of Nothing.
     
  94. Avoidance, hmm . . . My suspicion is that, by creating an abstract photograph, the photographer is risking more, and putting more on the line, precisely for the reason that the ready identifiability of the subject, the anchor in reality, etc., is not always evident. The intent is there; it just may be harder to find.
     
  95. jtk

    jtk

    "anchor in reality" pretends either-or, the standard-issue religious theory (body/spirit, reality/essence etc)....whereas "abstract" is the only image product of photography and it only exists in the viewer's perception.
     
  96. Here's E. Weston writing about pepper #30, from the Daybooks, 8/8/30:
    " It is a classic, completely satisfying, -- a pepper -- but more than a pepper: abstract, in that it is completely outside of subject matter. It has no psychological attributes, no human emotions are aroused: this new pepper takes one the world as we know it in the conscious mind. To be sure, much of my work has this quality [Italics mine]..."
     
  97. jtk

    jtk

    Luis, your quotation misuses Weston's early morning ruminations, attempting to turn them into THE ANSWER.
    Weston announced what a pepper image conveyed by fiat, as if he was the Pope. I think we owe him a little slack, especially as he wasn't posting on this Forum. He was starting to explore what a scholar would recognize as a breakthrough-sort-of-image...the context and related ideas hadn't yet been beaten to death on Photo.net.
    By definition, a photograph conveys what the viewer perceives...never what the viewer is told . I doubt Weston's intimates would have agreed with his statements about his own images. I doubt Stieglitz would have agreed. And I doubt that "abstract" meant the same thing to Weston as it does to anybody here in 2010.

    Like all photographs (every single photograph) Weston's pepper is by definition "outside its subject matter." All photographs are "abstractions" in that sense...so the word has little or no significance in a photographic context.
    Weston surely knew his image aroused human emotions...no matter what he asserted in the early morning over his first cuppa. He was as prone to BS as any photographer.
     
  98. John, "abstract photograph" refers to a photograph whose subject is unrecognizable (or mostly unrecognizable), usually boiled down to lines, shapes, shadows, colors . . . patterns.
    On a significant level, yes, all photographs are abstractions. Good point to emphasize and discuss. That's a different level from the level where one would speak of an abstract or non-abstract photograph. Both of these levels can be discussed coherently.
     
  99. Or, the difference between an abstract photograph and an abstract photography, the difference between the subject and perception being the subject.
     
  100. jtk

    jtk

    Fred and Phylo, I don't accept that there's a unique category of photography that's "abstract." It's all abstract, entirely. But my frame of reference comes from painters more than amateur photographers.
    You're certainly entitled to your own use of the term, but IMO it's unrelated to the "abstract" concept that's used by painters. Perhaps that's not relevant to you, but for me it emphasizes the misbegotten fantasy that photography is so inconsequential that it needs the "art" label to gain entrance into curricula and galleries.
     
  101. "amateur photographers"
    "misbegotten fantasy"
    "inconsequential"
    "the 'art' label"

    --John Kelly
     
  102. John made up the following about me -- and not as opinion, so I am allowed to reply:
    "
    Luis, your quotation misuses Weston's early morning ruminations, attempting to turn them into THE ANSWER."
    No, JK. Dead wrong, not even close. You overlooked one small but significant thing:
    Reality. All I did was quote Weston, nothing more. I said nothing. Zip, Zero, Nada. Try reading what I wrote sometime.
    From memory, I can tell you your convenient ideas about what his contemporaries thought, are wrong in the cases of Hagemeyer, O'Keefe, and his neighbor painter/friend, whose last name fails me, but I believe it was Shore. I'll have to read Stieglitz's correspondence from Weston (who partially destroyed A.S's) sometime get back to you.
    ___________________________
    Fred read my mind and beat me to it while I was posting:
    "amateur photographers"
    "misbegotten fantasy"
    "inconsequential"
    "the 'art' label"
    --John Kelly
    That says it all.


     
  103. jtk

    jtk

    "That says it all."
    That's sufficient for the shallow end of the pool.
     
  104. John, what is "the "abstract" concept that's used by painters"?
     
  105. John: Sorry it's taken me so long to respond. With all due respect, there's no "either-or". Your own statement that photography is all abstract clearly implies that any differences are in degree only. See the comments Fred posted before yours.
    Thinking about what you've stated and Phylo's last post, the concept of "metaphotography" popped into my head. I've gotta chew on this for a while. Stay tuned.......
     
  106. jtk

    jtk

    Michael and Don I'll try again: ALL photography (and all visual perception) is "abstract," ie we view the world and we abstract it and when we photograph it we abstract it further. Always and only. That's how our physical and psychological systems function.
    We do not become consciously aware of or conceptualize ANYTHING OTHER than abstractions. We never become consciously aware of (or produce photographs of ) "reality." Our nervous systems sense heat, color, pain, movement etc etc...but our awareness is an abstraction of that information and our concepts and photographs are approximate organizations of that abstract information...always and only.
    I shouldn't have said "used by painters" because many painters whose work gets labeled "abstract" simply make decorative, non-referential work ...they sell well in arts fairs if they use the right color schemes etc ...they make pretty pictures, a wonderful thing, but they seem generally unconnected with the more specific point I failed to make for Michael, above.
    I'm not a painter, not deeply enough experienced in painting appreciation etc, and it has taken me years and lots of accidental experiences in museums ( Met, MOMA etc) to catch on to the point I was trying to make...it's not easily conveyed here. And of course it's not a verbal concept, it's visual. Remember, for many of us this forum is anchored in visual issues, more than verbal.

    I suggest browsing for the work of Giorgio Morandi, who seems to me to be the "abstract" painter who, painting still life, seems to have come closest to photography (far from photo realistic).. Morandi is relatively "famous" among intensive, non-decorative painters but seems overlooked by art teachers ... ...no motel wall-hangers...he was intensely focused on a very small, dull-seeming world...he utilized a very constrained palate.
    I won't quote Morandi on this topic, but he does "famously" address it and you can find that if you browse. I don't think quotations often serve philosophic discussions usefully.
     
  107. All thought is in my head, therefore all thinking is abstract. However, some thoughts are more abstract than others, hehe.
    Google "abstract photographs" and you will see that currently, the most common conception of the term is represented by photographs that are often of identifiable objects, but photographed in such a way that a lot of visual cues are eliminated, and often incorporating unusual angles and shadows. Another group of "abstract photographs" are simply unidentifiable because of the lack of any cues as to what it is, and we are looking simply at colors, forms, etc. Both types of images seemed to be accepted as being "abstract" in modern usage.
    My two photos shown above when mounted and framed typically get the response: "What is it?" This makes me think that the lack of visual cues has made these photos somewhat abstract, because viewers can't readily identify what it is they are looking at. I think the term "abstract" obviously has several meanings but as it pertains to photography at this time it typically means an image that is "abstracted" somewhat, and to varying degrees, from the usual view, and is often lacking the visual cues that we normally expect, thus making the image lean more towards something other than what it actual is, and can be enjoyed as an image for that sake alone, or even if the identity of the object is known.
     
  108. John is employing the term abstract to make a compelling point about photography per se. In doing so, he is refusing to acknowledge the more common "abstract photograph." If someone else on the forum did this, he'd be going on about the importance of agreed-upon usages. I'm amused at the picture of John berating himself right now for blowin' smoke, one of his favorite accusations.
     
  109. jtk

    jtk

    Fred, please address the topic (OT) to the extent you're capable. There's no reason to snipe at my expression of my own thoughts. I wonder how many other individual thoughts have been crushed that way?
    Do look into Giorgio Morandi's work (best as paintings rather than just online) and his thoughts about the topic. Maybe you know a serious and successful painter or arts scholar (as opposed to photo teacher) who can help. I realize he's not been mentioned here previously, but don't let that limit you.
     
  110. jtk

    jtk

    Fred, please address the topic (OT) to the extent you're capable. There's no reason to snipe at my expression of my own thoughts. I wonder how many other individual thoughts have been crushed that way?
    Do look into Giorgio Morandi's work (best as paintings rather than just online) and his thoughts about the topic. Maybe you know a serious and successful painter or arts scholar (as opposed to photo teacher) who can help. I realize he's not been mentioned here previously, but don't let that limit you.
     
  111. jtk

    jtk

    Fred, please address the topic (OT) to the extent you're capable.
    There's no reason to snipe at my expression of my own thoughts. I'm sorry they're out of your comfort zone. I wonder how many other individuals have refrained from expressing their own unauthorized thoughts for that sort of reason?
    If you actually care about the OT, do look into Giorgio Morandi's work (best as paintings rather than just online), along with his thoughts about the topic. If you know a serious and successful painter or painting scholar (not just photo teacher) she may help.
    Morandi's not been mentioned here previously, but don't let that limit you: few important painters have ever been mentioned here. That's an OT in itself.
     
  112. "There's no reason to snipe at my expression of my own thoughts."
    If you will practice what you preach, I won't snipe. Deal?
     
  113. jtk

    jtk

    Anyone here with budding interest in "art" might want to look into Morandi. I think his work resonates interestingly with photography, which may be more of a "craft" according to HCB...Morandi is of central importance to the concept of "abstract."
     
  114. jtk

    jtk

    ...I'll add that my own interest in "art" is continuing to be "budding," I hope.
    When people assert that their interest is beyond "budding" they often have shifted from learning and excitement to "authority." Authority is the enemy of excitement.
     
  115. Does anyone have an abstract of someone blowing smoke rings?
    If not, why not?! (I'm trying to get into the spirit of this thread.)
    --Lannie
     
  116. jtk

    jtk

    Lannie, for help see Steve Murray's post above. Easily understood, covers plenty of ground.
     
  117. I've come to believe that a photograph without an identifiable referent is generally a waste of time and could have been better done in another medium-- like watercolor, drawing or painting.
     

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