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1 – Simplify

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2 – Clarify A Structure

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3 – Show A Process

 

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4  – Visualize A Concept

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5 – Create A Pattern

To one degree or another, every photograph is abstract. At a minimum, photographs are flat rather than three-dimensional. Some photographs are more graphic than others, and the origins of a few photographs are virtually unrecognizable. Determining to what degree a photograph is abstract, how it is abstract, and why it’s abstract will help you understand more about it and its creator’s intentions; this might be you.

Abstraction can serve many functions: it can direct, structure, inform, and express.

Whether you use it a little or a lot, abstraction is a vehicle that can help you strengthen your stories and clarify your point of view. As every image is abstract to one degree or another, ultimately, the question is not whether you will use abstraction but how you will use abstraction in your images. Exploring abstraction is time will spent.

Read the full article on Craft & Vision.

Learn more in my creativity and digital photography workshops.

 

 

This short clip previews a longer documentary on photographer Aaron Siskind and his work.

Find the full documentary here.

View more in The Essential Collection Of Documentaries On Photographers.

Read quotes by Aaron Siskind here.

View photographs by Aaron Siskind here.

Reading_Abstraction

Looking for great books on abstraction?

Browse this collection of my favorites.

This collection gathers classics from artists, psychologists, and scientists alike.

Enjoy!

Find more great books here.

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Issue 5 of PHOTOGRAPH (A Digital Quarterly Magazine For Creative Photographers) is out.

It’s packed! Portfolios and Q&A’s from Anja Buehrer, David Jackson, Marcin Sobas, and David duChemin. Columns from David duChemin, John Paul Caponigro, Chris Orwig, Piet Van den Eynde, Martin Bailey, Al Smith, Bruce Percy, and Adam Blasberg.

I discuss Abstraction in my column Creative Composition.

Get it here!

Here’s a collection of my favorite quotes on abstraction.

“Abstraction forces you to reach the highest level of the basics.” – Alan Soffer

“Abstraction is a mental process we use when trying to discern what is essential or relevant to a problem; it does not require a belief in abstract entities.” – Tom G. Palmer

“Abstract literally means to draw from or separate. In this sense every artist is abstract… a realistic or non-objective approach makes no difference. The result is what counts.” – Richard Diebenkorn

“To abstract is to draw out the essence of a matter. To abstract in art is to separate certain fundamentals from irrelevant material which surrounds them.” – Ben Shahn

“One of the most striking of abstract art’s appearances is her nakedness, an art stripped bare.” – Robert Motherwell

“It was only since the turn of the century that one returned to the immense role that abstraction plays in the human mind by its power of concentration upon absolute essentials.” – S. Giedion

“I understand abstract art as an attempt to feed imagination with a world built through the basic sensations of the eyes.” – Jean Helion

“Painting, like music, has nothing to do with the reproduction of nature, nor interpretation of intellectual meanings. Whoever is able to feel the beauty of colors and forms has understood non-objective painting.” – Hilla Rebay

“What does that represent? There was never any question in plastic art, in poetry, in music, of representing anything. It is a matter of making something beautiful, moving, or dramatic – this is by no means the same thing.” – Fernand Leger

“An abstract painting is exactly what it purports to be, whether it be paint splatters or stripes, while a representational painting has to give the illusion of the paint being air, or flesh, or flowers… therefore abstract paintings are rather concrete while representational paintings are rather abstract.” – David Leffel

“The abstract painter considers the realist painter to be the abstract painter and himself the realist because he deals realistically with the paint and does not try to transform it into something that it is not.” – Jimmy Leuders

“Abstract art has helped us to experience the emotional power inherent in pure form.” – Anton Ehrenzweig

“I expect of abstraction as much as what imagery does for me… to carry meaning.” – Kay WalkingStick

“The goal of abstract art is to communicate the intangible, that which eludes the photograph and normal seeing.” – Curtis Verdun

Read more

If he wasn’t the first, Aaron Siskind was certainly the preeminent abstract expressionist photographer. The abstract details he presents as new hyper-flat surfaces stand independent of their original subjects.

Abstraction in non-representational art celebrated in the modernist movement early 20th century has taken many forms; Kandinsky’s expressionism, Piccasso’s Cubism, Malevich’s a Constructivism, Stella’s Minimalism, Vasarely’s Op Art, etc) While photography quickly became the gold-standard of realism and consequently it took it longer than painting to embrace abstraction. (It’s arguable that the invention of photography forced painting to embrace abstraction.) Siskind’s images helped establish photography’s credibility as an abstract art.

But what kind of abstraction is Siskind’s abstraction? And what is the function of abstraction in Siskind’s work? Coming late to the game his work aggregates many previous sensibilities and ideas.

Like so many modernist’s he emphasized that what he made was not a representation of something else but “the thing itself” – an idea that has metamorphosed chimera-like since the Greeks and been repurposed by nonrepresentational artists and realists alike. But, while most modernists took pains to avoid including elements that suggest figurative images, Siskind’s images are peppered with them and because of their photographic nature they always reference something else, no matter how covertly. Like Jackson Pollock, Siskind prized directness and immediacy of expression but the personal authenticity derived from this becomes ironic given the essentially appropriative nature of photography. Like Franz Kline, Siskind’s images are riddled with poetic gesture, but none of the gestures in his images are made by hand or by him. Like Wassily Kandinsky, Siskind drew an analogy between his images and musical scores or performances, never mind that he worked without color or purely with tone.

Siskind’s abstraction defies resolution. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Siskind’s abstraction is that so many forms of abstraction and the ideas behind them coalesce into a single arena, the photographic frame.

Siskind’s work fascinated me instantly because in representing so little it demonstrated so much. A literal recording can be supremely abstract. Sometimes a photograph looks nothing like the thing photographed. To photograph is to transform. (And there are many ways to bring about transformation and many kinds of transformations.) A photograph is never the thing it represents and never just a photograph.

Find out more about my influences here.

 


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