An image caught my eye the other day, in my Feedly feed, the #photography category. You know the feed images, the ones chosen to represent an article, sometimes well selected, sometimes not as well. In my Feedly settings they’re quite small, very small actually, and if they are to catch my attention it will be the shapes, contrast or colours, or a mix of these, perhaps a person’s face, if the image was taken from a close distance. Details are lost at such small sizes.
Anyway. This image.
I don’t have the rights to publish it here so words will have to do.
It was black & white photograph, quite contrasty and difficult to tell what the subject was, at least at the width of only 130 pixels. Showing what appeared to be an arrow–like structure, a light but large triangle coming in from the bottom left, following three much smaller triangles pointing up to the top right corner. Intriguing photograph, one that inspires one to click the link to learn more. For that purpose, a good choice.
The photo was the featured image of a blog entry calling attention to a gallery exhibition, “Photography and Abstraction”. A subject that seems to strike a nerve in me and not always in a good way, mostly because I find the idea of abstraction by photography to be a bit of a nonesense. I’d like to stay away from bombastic claims that it is, there certainly are ways to abstractify the outcome of a photograph but I can’t help feeling that it is a bit of a hoax. There was still a subject in front of the camera and it did its best to accurately describe it, as cameras do, even if whoever controlled it attempted, perhaps even with great success, to hide the fact from the viewer.
Turns out this particular black & white image wasn’t at all abstract. Just a regular, albeit a very good, aerial black & white photograph of geometrical, agricultural forms on the earth’s surface. The high contrast certainly made it look more graphic than regular black & white photos. The combination of subject, composition and execution was first class. Abstract it was not.
It is a little embarrassing to show this, especially following what I wrote above, but here is my take on abstract photography:
So, a composition of seven images, none of which is particularly difficult to decipher (click for larger if you like and if your device allows it). Although I’m not unhappy about the composition of the seven, as an attempt to do abstract work it is certainly a failure and as such the level of it is hardly even mediocre. Sorry Thorir.
(I actually got away with a BA degree in photography with this but to the judges’ defence I should add that they did encourage me to write more.)
Perhaps this is the root of my gripe with abstract photography. The fact that I failed myself, and in order to keep my failure under control feel a need to keep other people’s attempts at the same as close as possible to my own level. That this notion of failure prohibits me to accept the success of others.
Although there is a grain of truth in that, probably a bit larger than I’d like to admit, it would be nice to see terms applied correctly. The fact that a viewer might need a moment or two to identify a subject does not mean that the photograph showing it qualifies as abstract.
The camera is a recording device. It captures what is in front of it, and does a fairly good job at it. Elements may be removed or added, to introduce notions of abstraction but that doesn’t make the work abstract.
Would love to see it! Or since I won’t be able to, documentation of it would certainly be second best.