Landscape photographers usually try to capture a scene that has a few recognisable elements. Foreground objects, middle distance and background are familiar component parts of a nice landscape photograph. These parts work together so that the viewer can gain an appreciation of the location or message that is being communicated.
But sometimes it is nice to move out of the whole scene and focus on part of the landscape. Abstract photography is all about isolating a fragment of a natural scene in order to remove its context.
Abstract photography as a term is quite interesting. There is no commonly-used definition of the term. Many writers and photographers have written about abstract photography without really defining exactly what it is. In 1916, Alvin Coburn, a photographer, proposed an exhibition called ‘abstract photography’. The exhibition entry form said: “no work will be admitted in which the interest of the subject matter is greater than the appreciation of the extraordinary”.
John Suler, a Professor of Psychology put it quite simply as: “If you look at a photograph and there is a voice inside you that asks ‘what is it?’ well, that’s an abstract photo!”
I like to categorise landscape photographs in three ways. Firstly, there is a picture that depicts a scene, albeit a location that the viewer might not be familiar with. A ‘true’ landscape image is one where the location could be found and visited. There are recognisable parts and these work together to communicate something about the scene or location.
Then there is what I call the semi-abstract photograph. This is an image that does look like an object or thing, but it does not attempt to show the context of the scene. It might prompt the viewer to think, ‘I know what this is but I don’t know which landscape or location it is from.
And then third category is the complete abstract image. The viewer might ask, ‘what is it?’
Regardless of the category or the definition, I think it is sometimes a good idea to step back from the overall landscape that you are photographing and to look for the detail. Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the beauty of the scene, to such an extent that we miss some of the detail.
Abstract or semi-abstract photography is all about looking for detail; texture, form, shapes, colours, grain, noise, that can produce a nice image, regardless of its context.
I think abstract photography teaches a photographer to look and assess the small components that make up the overall scene. When you stop and look at the small bits, the bigger picture can make more sense.
Barbara Kasten, a photographer and professor, wrote: “abstract photography challenges our popular view of photography as an objective image of reality by reasserting its constructed nature….freed from its duty to represent.”
Interesting shapes and forms are all around us and it can be quite liberating to shoot stuff that doesn’t have to make sense. The art of photography is to interact and engage with the viewer but it doesn’t always have to be a contextual engagement. Sometimes conceptual is enough to encourage a response.
I hope you enjoy taking some abstract images.