What do contemporary photographers call "abstract" ?

Discussion in 'Abstract' started by ajhingel, Nov 1, 2016.

  1. What we call "abstract" should maybe especially depend on what photographers show as "abstract photography".
    Maybe it is relevant, or maybe not, but I have always been fascinated about languages, their evolutions and the role of wise men.
    In France, we have a the French Academy (L'Académie française), an old institutions founded in the 17th century, which includes forty members, known as the "immortals". It publishes the official dictionary of the French language and is mostly known for its defense of the French as Molière wrote it (unjustified ! But has some elements of truth to it !)
    It define standards and underline and recall good usages of the French language
    Contrary to this tradition, in Scandinavia, we have academies too, but their role is mainly to inform on public contemporary use of the languages: how words are spelled, what they mean, how they are pronounced - by those who speak and write it.
    I would suggest that when we speak about art and photography, we listen to those who make it: the photographers who produce "abstract photography".
    Take Photonet as a start and go into the "Random Image Generator", under that category "abstract " for example. Or, go to the Critique Photo forum, using the same filter, or Browse top rated photos. You can use other selections and criteria in Photonet searching for "abstracts", if you wish, but you obviously end up with a view on what Photonetters call "abstract photography".
    You can also go to other sites on internet and search for the same:
    Take "Artspan.com" for example, still with the filter "photography/abstract", or Absolutearts.com, or Saatchiart.com and you have a wide understanding of what photographers call "abstract".
    This might not be your own usage of the term abstract, which is maybe more limited, but it is what the term covers by the photographers in question.
     
  2. While I think looking at what contemporary photographers do is a very helpful suggestion, I'd add a word of caution on drawing too many conclusions from what's posted to the PN category "abstract." PN categories are too few. For instance, there is no "graphic" category. There is no "surrealism" category. There is no "design" category. There is no "geometric" category. I imagine some who post to "abstract" might very well choose another category if there were more available.
    Mind you, I think many photos that would be put in these other categories can validly be considered abstract, but if we really want to know what contemporary photographers who consider their work abstract are doing, we'd have to know for sure that they consider their work abstract and aren't just choosing a category for lack of something else available. I'm by no means rejecting Anders's suggestion, just wanting to consider different angles.
     
  3. I fully agree. It would be very useful to have all the categories you mention. I would however, according to my rather inclusive usage of the term abstract, mostly include especially "graphic", "geometric" and "design" as subcategories within abstract photography.
    When it comes to surrealist images they can of course also be abstract (like the one below).
    Some have considered most of Dali's or Picasso's paintings as surrealist abstract work.
    I thought of introducing Threads on each of these categories in this new forum in the future.
    00eDBO-566188384.jpg
     
  4. From what it appears contemporary photographers seem to define it by what it's not compared to other methods of seeing and creating photographic images.
    The more specific the definition the more it just becomes all inclusive of other types of seeing and creating photographic images now limited by the interpretations set forth to define it by a small group of people, people who clearly see it different enough from other types of photography they have to create a category for it.
    For example I didn't want pictures of people's feet to be considered Abstract Photography until someone provided a link to an well known Abstract Photographer's online gallery showing a foot shot vertically in B&W. I could tell it was a foot back lit, posed and shot low angle to make it appear bigger than life. I give up.
     
  5. I just tried out PN's Random Image Generator set to Abstracts. One of the images that came up was a silhouette of a foot. CRAP!
    But I have to say there are SO MANY really good and of varying styles of Abstract photos that I'm now wondering why we need a forum category for it. I don't see any of those photographer's names posting here and I don't see any of our names and photos show up in the PN RIG.
     
  6. "I don't see any of our names and photos show up"
    Might be linked to the fact, that Photonet is build around rated photos. Many of us do not participate in rating since years. I, for example.
     
  7. Might be linked to the fact, that Photonet is build around rated photos. Many of us do not participate in rating since years. I, for example.​
    Yeah, I think you're right, Anders. I spent some more time on the RIG last night using various category filters and saw several joke images humorously castigating those who give low ratings, one of which showed a man getting gored in the behind by a bull with crudely superimposed words to the effect.. "here's to those giving 1's, 2's & 3's ratings". That one was in the "Humor" category.
    Also couldn't help note browsing the RIG is a bit trippy and disturbing as it's similar to browsing an individual's gallery to get an idea of how the photographer thinks only realizing it's of many photographer's different views on the world while at the same time feeling an overall since of sameness creeping in the more time passed seeing one after another over the top perfect looking image. Even the nudes seemed to all blend together.
    Not a good way to appreciate photography in general IMO. Sensory overload.
     
  8. Yes, Tim, don't overdo it. Like all excesses, it is bad for your health.
    However, it happens to be the best way of getting a rapid appreciation of how Photonetters use the term "abstract".
    If you try to use filter on abstract, based on "tags", the selection is even more heterogeneous, but of course you have then photos, which photographers find have "abstract" qualities. Most photos could be said to include abstract qualities. This weeks "Photo of the Week", is an example.
    How a the predominance of a photo's abstract qualities makes a photo into an "abstract photo", is maybe the center of our concern here.
     
  9. What do contemporary photographers call "abstract" ?

    I have to post this link just to show how far we've gotten with PN contemporary photographers in expressing this genre.
    http://www.photo.net/no-words-forum/00eDNc
     
  10. Anders, I suspect your OP is similar to one I posted before. After reading the responses in that thread, I've come to the conclusion that there is no single definition of abstract photography. I also think there's some consensus that photographs in this genre have varying degrees of subject matter that may not be readily identifiable (in the ordinary sense of identifying anything - a bird, a building, etc.)
     
  11. Tim, you seem to have misunderstood the no-words forum series of images of "abstract" you link to. It is the thumb sign which is abstract in those images and not images.
    Michael, thanks.
     
  12. Anders, not misunderstood...just don't agree it's an abstract whether it's a sign or shape of the thumb. If you're joking, I can't tell.
    The OP does not give any information to me that they understand it according to what you're saying. The photos are not abstract and neither is the concept IMO.
    A more apt word as I was taught and understood from my art school days is "Symbolism" with maybe a bit of "Expressionism". But there's no NW category for that. I'ld just go with Pictorial like everyone else does.
     
  13. Tim, it seems that we have a more generalized problem of just using the word abstract around here, not only related to art, but now also related to gestures.
    Abstract hand gestures are gestured where the hands and persons involved are backgrounded, and the represented and commonly shared action/ process or psychological meaning itself is foregrounded. Abstract hand gestured are widely use in our daily life. Also in sign languages, are there many very abstract signs. So the finger gesture represented in the No-word forum are indeed an abstract gesture. And I'm not joking :)
    Surely "symbolism" can be referred to too, which uses tons of abstract symbols.
    Def. A symbol : a thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract.
     
  14. Here's where I think abstraction comes into the "thumbs-up" No-Words thread:
    A thumbs-up is the gestural symbol of an abstract idea, an idea for which there is no physical referent. "Freedom" is an abstract idea and, similarly, a thumbs-up represents such an abstract idea. The thought of a rock or a house is concrete. What we think of when a thumbs-up is given is an abstract, not a concrete, idea.
    There may be a fine distinction to be made here, but I can see why these photos could be themed under an "abstract" sub-category and I can also see why that sub-category might be a bit misleading. These photos are not abstract photos per se, or in a more typical sense of "abstract photo," because they are representational in that they clearly depict a known and recognizable gesture/symbol. But they are photos of a gesture which "points to" an abstract idea.
     
  15. A thumbs-up is the gestural symbol of an abstract idea,​
    I don't see that as an abstract idea at all. It's more a cultural euphemism through repeated use by the public at large to say..."Everything is Excitedly good or OK"

    That's not abstract. That's a clear communication set to word thoughts in the form of a symbol. Is a stop sign communicating an abstract idea? It better not! Or we're going to have a lot of wrecks due to misinterpretation of the abstract thought/idea of... STOP YOUR FREAKIN' 3000+ POUND MOTORIZED VEHICLE BEFORE YOU KILL SOMEONE WITH IT!
     
  16. What do Abstracts communicate? Answer that and I'll understand the No Words thread I mentioned here, but it better make sense and be logical. No wishy-washy talking in circles type stuff.
    I will consider the angle of "communicating abstractly", but that means what's communicated isn't concrete.
     
  17. "When the sage points at the moon, the fool looks at the finger"
    (abstract gesture, concrete, finger)

    Maybe it is time to go back to discussing abstract photography.
     
  18. An abstract communicates a gesture or expression of a perceived alternate reality sensed by the viewer as being sourced from reality to create enough ambiguity in order to allow the viewer to receive first the emotion, expression or feeling they perceive from the abstract image before the mind has time to see it or pick out elements they see as a real object or even part of reality.
    My mind sees a picture of a REAL thumb first before I see the emotion it's communicating through its symbolism. This is my reasons for not calling it an Abstract in execution or as an abstraction.
    Abstracts hover within an ambiguous definition of reality between expression and symbolism and thus creating a newer and different reality or interpretation of it. This is why most can't pick a part the elements of an abstract so that they can define it strictly as a real representation of reality or figure.
     
  19. "When the sage points at the moon, the fool looks at the finger"
    (abstract gesture, concrete, finger)
    There's no emotion in that statement, so to me it makes no sense. Try again.
     
  20. Here's my example of what I consider an image that fits my definition of an abstract photo.
    The viewer looks at the feeling or impression or sensory gestures provided by the shapes and shadows and subtle texture detail of the painted window sill and of the blind before they see it as just a close up picture of a window blind. I've created enough ambiguity to the viewer into feeling the blind and painted texture of the window sill before the mind defines as a real object.
    It's the speed or degree of attenuation between mind and emotion created in this ambiguity that determines it's level of abstraction.
    00eDaS-566262884.jpg
     
  21. "Everything is excitedly good or OK" is an abstract idea.
    "This is a rock" is a concrete idea.
    Goodness, Freedom, Love, Fear, Excitement are abstract. They don't point to a referent.
    Rock, Shoulder, Lady crossing the street, Automobile in the rain are concrete. They point to a referent.
     
  22. OK, Fred. That jibes with the definition of Abstract used as an adjective doing a google search.
    So emotion is an abstract concept. It's the undefinable. So apparently I'm partly right about feeling the emotion of an abstract photo first before seeing it as a concrete, physical form.
    The thumbs up NW thread is just using the category of Abstract as an adjective of the idea behind the thumbs up sign, not a noun. But you do agree the images aren't abstract photos?
     
  23. I like your thumb-rule question under the picture, but I would reformulate and add the reverse process
    Do you sense and feel the shapes and forms first before you see the window blind?
    Do you see the window blind first and then you only/mainly sense and feel the shapes and forms ?
    In both cases we have degrees of abstraction by simplifying, exaggerating, stylizing or otherwise modifying, colours, lines and forms.
    This would be the primary type of abstraction photographers tend to do because it starts with the photographed reality : objects, cityscapes, nature etc.
    There is however also the totally non-representational form of abstract photography witch starts directly with colors, forms and lines to create a composition, which the photographer senses and feels.
    Both are abstract photography.
     
  24. The thumbs up NW thread is just using the category of Abstract as an adjective of the idea behind the thumbs up sign, not a noun. But you do agree the images aren't abstract photos?​
    Yes. And I already said as much in my post on Nov.5 at 5:52 a.m., the relevant paragraph of which is quoted here:
    There may be a fine distinction to be made here, but I can see why these photos could be themed under an "abstract" sub-category and I can also see why that sub-category might be a bit misleading. These photos are not abstract photos per se, or in a more typical sense of "abstract photo," because they are representational in that they clearly depict a known and recognizable gesture/symbol. But they are photos of a gesture which "points to" an abstract idea.​
     
  25. Do you feel the shapes & forms first before you see it's just a window blind?​
    I see it as shapes and forms first and that, to me, is where the abstraction aspect lies.

    Someone may not respond to an abstract emotionally (to the extent we can avoid reacting to anything emotionally) but still recognize it as an abstract.

    With Mondrian's paintings, for example, the first thing I see is the geometry (before I feel whatever emotion is produced) and that's what suggests to me that it's an abstract, especially when I keep looking and don't find an overtly figurative aspect.

    The concept of an emotion is an abstract concept. And I appreciate what you're saying about your emotional reaction coming first when you see the shapes before you make out that it's a photo of window blinds. I'm not sure I'd say, though, that the primacy of the emotional reaction is what makes it abstract, even though emotional concepts are abstract concepts. I'd say the lack of recognition of "what it's a photo of" is what makes it abstract. HOWEVER, I'd want to think about it more, because I kind of like the connection you're making between the abstractness of emotion and emotional responses to the visual world. I'm just not sure right now how I'd piece all that together. It will take some thought, if I ever come up with something.
     
  26. Holy crap, I think I stumped Fred. I look forward to your take on this, Fred.
    This has been a very inspirational subject that has motivated me to analyze what happens when I look at an abstract painting vs an abstract photo coupled with how it relates to how I feel about graphic design. And maybe what we're all doing here is sorting out how abstracts seem to create a sensation of reacting when seeing shapes, forms and color with our primitive reptilian mind (referencing your Mondrian example) and swiftly evolving to our modern emotional mind that forms the underpinnings of our interests in abstract images.
    Anders, I agree with your expanding on the my take on the window blind image. At least I'm making headway in my understanding of how to define an abstract photo. There's certainly quite a bit of gray area to explore seeing all the various approaches from other contemporary photographers. This is what makes abstracts such a versatile way to express oneself through photography, but there does have to be some defining of boundaries like whether we're using the term abstract as an adjective or noun as in the NW forum.
    I'm glad Fred made it more clear what that was about. His first response went over my head which was before I started my analysis of the emotional arriving first, and seeing with the mind second premise. Google search on the definition helped out as well.
     
  27. OK. Some thoughts I'm considering without, right now, coming to an ultimate conclusion.
    ___________________________________

    When I see a representational photo, the progression might be something like this: I recognize a horrified-looking nude young girl running on a roadway, and understand the connection to napalm bombing and have a strong emotional reaction. The expression on her face and in her body is a sign of horror (or whatever you care to name it).
    When I see an abstract photo, though the lines and shapes are not representational, I do see them first and may also have a strong reaction. Whether the photo is big blocks of shapes, or series of random lines and slivers, or amorphous textural meanderings, my seeing those leads to an emotional reaction. Colors themselves, without being part of a representational picture, have emotional effects on us.
    This makes me unsure as to why the emotional response would be first with the abstract as opposed to the representational photo. The emotional response is present and dependent on my seeing something in both figurative and abstract photos. The difference is that the figurative photo uses recognizable, discursive content and the abstract photo does not. So I'd think the difference would lie in the content (or lack of figurative content) rather than in when the emotion takes place.
    That being said, emotions in the absence of a narrative or representation do seem more abstract than emotions that I can tie to something more specifically known.
    So apparently I'm partly right about feeling the emotion of an abstract photo first before seeing it as a concrete, physical form.​
    I don't know enough brain science to address this properly, but off the cuff, I'm skeptical about whether this is what's happening. I suspect the only reason your emotions are being stimulated is because you are looking at the physical photo. Concretely speaking, it's a photo with shapes. That's the physical thing you're seeing that's causing the emotion. What's happening, I think, is that these shapes and lines don't represent something. So, in the case of a representational photo, a big part of what's causing the emotional reaction is what is being represented and not just the lines and shapes. In an abstract photo, a big part of what's causing the emotional reaction are the lines and shapes themselves.

    I don't see the emotions coming first in the representational or the abstract photo. I see the difference being that, in the representational photo, the emotions are accompanied by what's being represented and in the abstract, the emotions are accompanied only by the visuals but not by something being represented by those visuals.
     
  28. I wonder if the emotional component has to do with our descriptions of our emotions relative to different types of photos. I can describe the Ut Vietnam photo as horrifying because of what it represents. Rarely have I thought of describing abstract works as horrifying or hopeful. Yet I would use words like mesmerizing or distracting or busy. So it might be that the types of emotions produced are different and the specificity of our emotions much harder to describe narratively because of the lack of representational mental images.
     
  29. Fred, you speak of emotional response in viewing an abstract image (my italics) "Whether the photo is big blocks of shapes, or series of random lines and slivers, or amorphous textural meanderings, my seeing those leads to an emotional reaction. Colors themselves, without being part of a representational picture, have emotional effects on us."
    An abstract image is often intended on a mainly intellectual (that part of it which is non-emotional) level, being a construct that resolves a spatial problem or creates a harmony or equilibrium of various building elements (colour, forms, space, etc.).
    You do not address that. Do you not think it important? Do you not accept that abstract images can exist without emotional content but simply create other intellectual qualities?
    Of course, you may choose to consider everything presented as an intellectual exercise will evoke some emotional reaction, like that of feeling (experiencing) some emotion upon denoting beauty in a non-representational image. Creating emotion in the viewer's mind is I believe not always the objective of abstract art. The image itself is independent and exists as it is, often with no intent or property to generate emotions. Some cry upon hearing a music of Back or Strauss or Britten. Others may assimilate what they hear much like a mathematician considering the form of a complicated construct, well before he or she is in a position to react emotionally to the result of it (or of a Bach fugue, or the Strauss poem written in Germany while war rages around him).
    We are known to react to images by relating them to our own experiences. Those, of representational nature, are often associated with emotion. The abstract image is less well equipped to seek that response, and I think mainly exists without that need (or "albatross", in some cases).
     
  30. Arthur, I encourage you to notice that my comments are part of a dialogue with Tim on the emotional aspects of abstracts. So, to answer your question, of course I accept that abstract images can deal with more intellectual issues.
    As a matter of fact, here's something I included in my post of Nov. 5 at 6:23 p.m.:
    Someone may not respond to an abstract emotionally (to the extent we can avoid reacting to anything emotionally) but still recognize it as an abstract.​
    It's just that Tim was relating abstraction and emotion in what I thought was a challenging way, so we were riffing back and forth on that. I'm glad you added what you did, because I think it's another aspect of abstracts that's important.
     
  31. "I accept that abstract images can deal with more intellectual issues."​
    These "intellectual issues" are what I tried to include by adding "sense" to feel - before I fell in Morpheus arms yesterday evening.
    - Sense and feel the shapes and forms first before seeing the window blind
    - The window blind first and then only/mainly sensing and feeling the shapes and forms
    • Sensing the horrors of the world
    • Sessing what wellbeing is meant to mean
    • Sessing to understand previously unknown territory.
    • A true abstract image in every sense of the word.
     
  32. I suspect the only reason your emotions are being stimulated is because you are looking at the physical photo. Concretely speaking, it's a photo with shapes. That's the physical thing you're seeing that's causing the emotion. What's happening, I think, is that these shapes and lines don't represent something. So, in the case of a representational photo, a big part of what's causing the emotional reaction is what is being represented and not just the lines and shapes. In an abstract photo, a big part of what's causing the emotional reaction are the lines and shapes themselves.​
    Very concise, Fred. Much appreciated. I think I'm applying the word "emotional reaction" too loosely in describing what I'm responding to in an abstract. I wonder if "attraction" cam be considered an emotional reaction much as you were attracted? drawn to? the Mondrian's geometric shapes?
    I know there is a lot to read in what I was saying and in this entire discussion in general but wondered what you thought about my "seeing abstracts first with our reptilian brain" much as we as animals in ancient times did when spotting Zebras vs Tiger hide patterns out in nature. One we're attracted to (harmless Zebra) and the other we run from (Tiger) out of self preservation. And I'm not saying this is what's happening viewing an abstract, I'm just pointing out how humans have develop a visual short hand (advertisers have tapped into) as a way to quickly formulate meaning in what we see on a knee jerk reactive level.
    This also relates to the attraction created by graphic design elements. A point I made in another thread about font styles that appear to speak with a different human voice with each font style change. I used to be a sign painter and calligrapher for spending money back when I was teen and remember being "attracted" to all the font styles seemingly having their own unique vocal tone with each change to their shape and form provided by their different styles. Couldn't understand why I was attributing human qualities to what amounts to contours, patterns of lights and darks that communicate in the shape of words.
     
  33. . . . wondered what you thought about my "seeing abstracts first with our reptilian brain" . . .​
    Yes, I like that formulation. The way I relate to it is that abstracts work on me at least to some extent non-discursively, meaning they often don't lead me to a meaning or conclusion by use of reason and seem to operate more intuitionally. I think that's a function of the lack of representation. Representation seems to yield more discursive thought.

    That being said, many viewers of non-abstract art describe their reactions as seeming to come from what you're calling the "reptilian brain" or what I'm calling intuitional/intuitive.

    This is not the case in all instances. Some figurative photos seem to operate on me very intuitionally. And some abstracts (Jackson Pollock, for example) seem to play as much or more with my intellect. Because Pollock's paintings seem to actually visualize his method, I seem to be immediately aware of method as part of the experience and that feels more reason-based to me. And, as Arthur points out, more geometrical abstracts, for example, seem to inspire a more logical response, as if my brain is following the actual construction in a very methodical way.

    I don't see it in all or nothing terms. There's a balance and sometimes an imbalance of discursive and non-discursive that varies from work to work.
     
  34. Thanks for motivating me to look up the meaning of the word "discursive", Fred. Unfortunately the Google definition was more broad and abstract than I'ld anticipated.
    This has been a really interesting and informative exchange deconstructing Abstract photos and Abstract as a means for visual expression in general. I feel I understand it more than I did when this forum was first created.
     
  35. I agree, Tim, so let's start exchanging examples, knowledge and experiences about "abstract photography". That's what the forum is for, after all.
     
  36. Here's a photo I just coded as 'concrete abstract', marking another item off my bucket list.
    00eDqI-566302084.jpg
     

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