Abstract art uses a visual language of form, colour and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world. Abstraction indicates a departure from reality in depiction of imagery in art.
This departure from accurate representation can be only slight, or it can be partial, or it can be complete. Total abstraction bears no trace of any reference to anything recognizable (Vineta Cook Art, 2018).
Looking at abstract photographers
Angie McMonigal is an award-winning fine art photographer from Chicago where she has resided for over 15 years. She, with camera in hand, has been photographing this city ever since. The images she makes capture iconic elements that go unnoticed by most but are in plain view. Her work has been exhibited and published worldwide. Her forte is in architecture, producing striking images of skyscrapers, she uses layers in images very well allowing items in the scene to overlap each other to produce interesting collages of texture, colour, and depth. Her images are not over processed in fact they are quite understated and tend to be on the cool side of the colour spectrum
She has had her images showcased by galleries in Los Angeles, Barcelona, Chicago and New York. McMonigal often works with architectural firms, art consultants, private collectors and designers to produce distinctive photographs for their collections.
Although we are dealing with abstract or abstraction in this project there are photographers who produce abstract images but are called surrealists. Man Ray was an American born visual artist but spent most of his career in France. Ray was a prolific artist not only producing amazing surrealist photography but was also a painter, and produced films and various objects.
Man Ray (born Emmanuel Radnitzky; August 27, 1890 – November 18, 1976) was an American visual artist who spent most of his career in France. He was a significant contributor to the Dada and Surrealist movements, although his ties to each were informal. He produced major works in a variety of media but considered himself a painter above all. He was best known for his photography, and he was a renowned fashion and portrait photographer. Man Ray is also noted for his work with photograms, which he called “rayographs” in reference to himself (Tate, 2018).
Inside the cone
EXIF: 0.6 sec F13 17mm ISO 640
Captured handheld at a slow shutter speed, showing the receding conical rings of bricks inside a firing kiln.
There are a few parts of this photograph that lead the viewer’s eye through the image the bright circle of daylight at the top naturally attracts the eye but also the circular lines that recede towards the light, being stacked one above the other create a circular leading line to the top.
The years of soot and heat have also made their marks on the stonework showing the direction of the heat and the smoke during firing.
EXIF: 1/250 sec F5.6 105mm ISO 100
Using colour and bokeh to create an abstract image. I perceived this image while watching a child’s windmill rotate in the breeze and due to the sun I squinted.
Using a macro lens I got close and defocused the image to remove all detail and produced soft circles of pastel colours.
Shot handheld with the use of natural direct sunlight giving the shiny plastic toy a pleasing and relaxing image.
EXIF: 5.0 sec F6.3 17mm ISO 100
A steam engine is a feat of engineering but when you look at the whole thing you miss the detail. I used the abstraction technique to zoom in on a small area of the locomotive to show the intricate workings of a wheel with connecting rods.
The oil on the metal produces a nice sheen in the mixed lighting conditions that lend a glossy feel to the image. There certainly is a lot going on in this photograph but because of the subject and the way it is shot I feel it will hold the attention of the viewer much longer as their eye discovers all the intricacies of this engineering marvel.
Part of the jungle
EXIF: 1/60 sec F5.0 170mm ISO 250
Taken in the city centre, this is a small section of the wall that hides some of the Wulfren car park. Shot tight and cropped in a little more, the perspective is completely changed and totally confuses the viewer, which way are the long pillows of concrete stacked?
The contrast has been pumped a little and some selective colour has taken place to highlight the contrasting edges of the columns.
I also like the real-life feel of it showing its texture with grit, dirt, and stains over it.
EXIF: 1/50 sec F11 105mm ISO 200
A home studio macro shot of a cricket. I found this dead bug and decided to mount it and make a low key image of it by standing it on the screen of my mobile phone to act as a nice dark reflector to give the image some extra dimension.
I used one small Speedlight positioned to the left of the camera attached to a small clamp. Being macro I knew I had to use a higher F-stop to get some depth of focus but also wanted the focus to drift out past the eye, I found F11 perfect for this purpose.
I did a lot of post-processing work on this image using initially Lightroom then finishing in Photoshop, I wanted to give the feeling of the bug crawling out of the darkness toward the viewer, I feel I achieved that.
EXIF: 1/50 sec F9 200mm ISO 1600
There is so much about this abstract image that I love. Utilising the frame within a frame effect and the natural sunlight backlighting the teeth of the cogs within that frame. The sharpness of the rear cogs draws the viewers eye through the defocused front cog to see the rear workings. The green moss coupled with the chipped paint and worn teeth gives the viewer an impression of age. The small spiders webs give the impression that item is now seldom used.
Shot on the long end of a 70-200 at F9 but with a shutter speed of 1/50th gave me enough depth and the image stabilization helped with camera shake. Even in bright sunlight, the ISO had to go up to 1600 to compensate for the aperture, truly a balancing act of the exposure triangle.
Stand for the band
EXIF: 1/50 F5 8.8mm ISO 100
Taken with a Phantom 4 Pro drone this is a bandstand from a view many never see. Due to that fact it totally confuses the viewer.
The shapes, colour, and angle of this image just work together so well even how the red tarmac was laid in a circular fashion around the stand with the rainwater drying to give a spiral effect.
Life in motion
EXIF: 2.0 sec F32 70mm ISO 100
I experimented with various exposure times, Apertures and ND filters to get the image I was looking for, I wanted to show movement enough to blur the identity of the shoppers but not so long that they totally ghosted or were inconceivable as human beings.
I found that my ND .8 with an F stop of 32 and a shutter speed of 2 seconds produced the ideal result. It was then just a matter of hitting the shutter as the components (people) moved into their starting positions.
I also noted that if I started the exposure and they were to close to the lens then they became an out of focus mess, too far away and the shot looked empty.
At F32 the image is sharp from front to back but this contrasts lovely with the blurred characters in the scene.
Invert the giwt
EXIF: 1/40 sec F6.3 168mm ISO 100
I was not going to use this image until a fellow photographer suggested I turn the image upside down. The image is, in fact, a tree that has been heavily pruned but has grown new shoots from the stumps of the sawn-off limbs. By inverting the picture, turning it to black and white and pumping up the contrast I now feel it looks more like the roots of a tree. Shot from ground level the grey Autumn sky gives it an eerie feel. Stark, naked, hard.
EXIF: 1/15 sec F8 70mm ISO 100
Not sure why this image appeals to me but it does very much. I find it as a structure very interesting. It has an almost art deco feel to it with its rotunda of glass bricks and its crown of thorns. The wire of the fencing and the curve of the structure make the viewer’s eyes sweep across the image from left to right. I wanted as much of this image as possible in focus so went for an aperture of F8 the resultant shutter was 1/15 at ISO 100. Not wanting to up the ISO and introduce noise I steadied myself against a lamp post to take the shot.
Abstract photography comes in many forms dealing with form, texture, light, and repetition just to name a few. The word actually is derived from abstraction meaning freedom from representational qualities. I would say anything that removes some of the obvious and makes the onlooker pause and think. There is an old saying less is more and this is very often true of abstract imagery and, I think this saying is never more true than when aligned with the art of abstraction.
Abstract imagery can free the photographer from the usual rules and constraints to produce fantastical images that might be a subpart of reality or a figment of the photographer’s imagination. It also frees the photographer up to experiment and be OK with the possibility of failure.
Because of the wide-open nature of the genre, there are a plethora of tools available to the photographer to create the initial image and then bend, shape and warp it in post-production to produce the finished image. Hardware wise an abstract photographer will use just about anything to help them produce the desired affect some of the implements might be photography specific like macro lenses and ND filters, but could likewise have nothing to do with photography directly like dye and fish tanks, the photographer is quite simply limited by their creativity.
Abstract photography can be used in advertising, compositing and even stock photography. Some bokeh could make a nice backdrop for a composite image where the foreground is added after the fact. I have also seen abstract photography used for general office decoration, where the company wants to add interest to a room but not make an obvious statement.
I enjoy abstract, though I think to do a very good job you need to invest a lot of time in the conceptualisation of the image before you even pick up the camera. When the project was given to me I initially wanted to use a crystal ball to capture images in a sphere, I did do some test shots as can be seen in my blog posts but after a critique session with fellow photographers, I felt it was not abstract enough for this project.
Here are a couple of images from my tests.
Tate. (2018). Man Ray 1890-1976 | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/man-ray-1563 [Accessed 3 Jan. 2018]
Vineta Cook Art. (2018). Articles about Contemporary Artist Vineta Cook. [online] Available at: https://www.vinetacook.com/blogs/articles/tagged/famous-abstract-photographers [Accessed 3 Jan. 2018]