Abstract Photography?

Somebody once said that photography must inevitably represent something and that a photograph will always be a footprint of the real. Apparently, a photograph cannot transcend the real. A photo will always be a picture of something. This opinion seems to be fuelled by spectators who feel uneasy facing a photo they cannot decode: “What does this picture show? What’s this a photo of?” Because they know that every photograph must be a picture of something.

But is it really impossible for a photograph to go beyond depiction? I do not think so. Classic black-and-white photography is a form of abstraction, some kind of departure from reality.

In order to further transcend the real object, I asked myself how abstract a photo could be. Now I am asking myself how abstract it should be.

Initially, Eduardo Chillida’s pictures inspired me to make photographs which are abstract beyond classic black and white, eliminating the greys so that the only pictorial elements would be either deep black or white. The resulting forms, structures and pictures were supposed to be of utter simplicity. Thus, the following picture may acutally resemble a rather drippy abstract painting.

But I came to realize that playing with ‘pure form’ had its limits, that the contents of those pictures tended to be rather superficial. I felt that total abstraction was not possible – and not even desirable. Still, I wanted to find out more about the relationship between real space and the picture plane.

A survey of reality seemed a worthy goal. But I wanted this survey to materialize in pictures that not only refer to reality but also to themselves.

This is one of the results:

And, after a further step towards depicting things (and after a couple of failures) I came up with this one:

Finally, I gave up the extreme contrasts:

All these may be examples of a kind of photography that gave up narrative. They may fail to fulfil most spectators’ expectations. And I do not even know they really ‘work’. But one thing is for sure: These thoughts and photographic attempts have taught me a lot.

7 thoughts on “Abstract Photography?”

  1. Sehr gute Bildkomposition. Ich mag das Spiel mit der Geometrie in das auch Licht und Schatten einbezogen sind.
    LG, Martina

    1. …so kritisch ich diese Bilder zum Teil sehe, komme ich doch immer wieder auf diese ‘abstrakten’ Gestaltungsprinzipien zurück. Danke für die Ermutigung, diesen Weg weiter zu verfolgen, Martina.

  2. The point – first, for the photographer and, second, for the viewer – is not what’s there; the point is what we see. Sometimes it’s good to shroud detail in shadow so that the shapes are more clearly visible, the structural relationships more apparent. But we can also use light to hide detail or mask structure.

    The ‘photographic’ characteristics with which we imbue our images play a role, too, in providing stylistic and contextual clues for our narratives and/or tableaux.

    By the way, a photograph ‘works’ if a narrative or conversation of some sort occurs within the mind of the viewer.

    But ultimately (quoting Roland Barthes), “A photograph is always invisible, it is not it that we see.”

    1. Thank you for this comment!

      My bias for Roland Barthes notwithstanding, I can’t content myself with the idea that “a photograph is always invisible, it is not it that we see.” I may be wrong, and fighting windmills, but trying to make the photograph visible seems to be worth my while.

      If I remember the context of Barthes’ observation correctly, he claims that the referent sort of gets in the way of perceiving the picture ‘itself’: Many viewers would rather say “nice face” rather than “nice picture” when they see a photographed portrait. Thus I assume that trying to deconstruct the picture’s subject may be a good objective (mere destruction would not appeal to me as much, hence I would like to see an element of construction).

      But this is highly theoretical. In real life, I photograph rather intuitively, especially when it comes to things – or subjects – catching my eye. Many things or scenes or situations literally do: they seem to take my eye captive and in a way would not let go until I made some pictures.

      Accordingly, I still have these ‘black on white’ pictures happening to me, no matter how much I challenged them in this post. And I’ll yet have to find out if “a narrative or conversation of some sort occurs within the mind of the viewer.”

  3. As the cliche goes, ‘nothing in life is ever truly black and white’. You seem to have rightly come to the same conclusion.

    In my opinion, contrast should be reserved for the printed word as it is better to let one’s mind interpret what is written, versus to have one’s eye determine the binary nature of the image in black and white.

    1. Thanks for mentioning the printed word, black on white as it is. While the shadows, the dark parts of the pictures above do hide something – surface structures, for example – there is nothing to be revealed by the bright parts …

      If you care to consider the steps of St. Michael’s (above), there are deep shadows as well. But I think they only emphasize everything in the light. I like it better that way; we agree.

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