The purpose of this article is to discuss some concepts related to abstract photography. To combine the elements of abstract art and the characteristics of photography.
“The visualization of a photograph involves the intuitive search for meaning, shape, form, texture, and the projection of the image-format on the subject. The image forms in the mind–
is visualized… The creative artist is constantly roving the worlds without, and creating new worlds within.” (Ansel Adams : An Autobiography, 1996)
Abstract - definition
adjective - “existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence” (Oxford Dictionary).
noun - “the act of abstracting, the result of abstracting” (Oxford Dictionary).
verb - “to withdraw, take away; to separate in mental conception; to consider apart from the concrete” (Oxford Dictionary)
origin - Middle English: from Latin abstractus, literally ‘drawn away’, past participle of abstrahere, from ab- ‘from’ + trahere ‘draw off’
A general distinction is that abstract is not representational, figurative or a literal depiction.
Photograph - definition
A photograph “is a picture using a camera, in which an image is focused on to light sensitive material and then made visible and permanent by chemical treatment or stored digitally” (Oxford Dictionary).
A key aspect of a photograph is that it requires light to be reflected from an object for it to be recorded by the camera. The photograph is recorded at a specific place, a specific time and for a specific duration of time, the shutter speed. As well, a photograph can be manipulated in other ways such as computer software programs to produce the end result.
There are many elements of design and composition that are used as the basis and inspiration for creating an abstract image. Line, shape, space, colour, contrast, texture, patterns, balance, simplicity are some and how they are placed within the frame expresses the intention of the creator. The concept of minimalism is often used to select and organise the smallest number of elements necessary.
Abstracting is the act of separating the essential from the inessential, to isolate elements from their usual environment, focusing in on the object for the beauty that’s actually there.
To do this, it is necessary to go beyond the seeing in our day to day lives, to use a process of mindfulness, awareness and visualization. Mindfulness and awareness is a state of active, open attention to the present and your surroundings. Visualization is the ability to imagine the final design.
Using a camera means photography is a representational medium, since it requires an object to create it. The process of using a camera to produce an abstract photograph requires the person with the camera to find and abstract the object that will be photographed, within a set of ideas that will be considered at the time of the photograph and how it is subsequently processed into a final image. These ideas include mindfulness, and awareness and incorporating elements of visual design.
When evaluating an image, the viewer can use the paradigm of subject, content and form. Subject is the concept or idea that is to be communicated in the image. Content is what is seen in the image ie. landscape, portrait, still life, abstract. Form is how the content is organized and processed ie. rules of composition and software.
There is a separation between the subject or idea and how it is realized as content and form. Subject or intent is not sufficient without the technical ability to communicate it to the viewer using content and form. At the same time, content and form is not sufficient if it does not have a subject or intent inherent in the image.
The advantage of this paradigm is that it provides a structured process to create and evaluate an image. To create, is there a subject or idea, and what is the content and form that can communicate it. To evaluate, does the form and content communicate the subject or idea.
When viewing an image, ask why. Assume the person making the image is aware of the form and content and how it can relate to the viewer. Form, encompassing visual design elements such as rules of composition, black and white or colour, can have a subconscious or psychological meaning that when made aware, can further expand the intent of the image.
Abstracting, with a camera, provides the opportunity to examine our surroundings and to express the beauty and hopefully emotional connection we can see everyday.