A Little Abstracted
Over the years I’ve turned my hand to just about every genre of photography that there is but the one that I always seem to return to is abstraction. There is something freeing about not having to worry about context. If an object can be recognized in a photograph then associations will immediately start to form in the photographer’s mind.
Questions about the object such as how it has been treated in the arts, how the viewer is likely to relate to it, is the object likely to impart a contemporary or a more traditional feel along with a thousand others crowd the mind.
With abstraction none of this matters – it is all about line, tone, color and shape and how they relate to each other. This is both incredibly liberating and a little scary at the same time. Many normal photographic considerations, such as accuracy of representation and the whole history of the subject and its representation become meaningless and this is a double edged sword.
With representational photography we have certain benchmarks that we can measure ourselves against and take comfort from e.g. are the colors accurate, is the image sharp at the point of focus, is the exposure what it should be etc. The moment that we decide to take the plunge and go abstract however, these benchmarks become meaningless.
Many painters experience a similar discomfort at the point in their career when they decide to leave the figurative for the abstract. Think about it, a major part of our comfort in our art comes from being seen by others as good at what we do and when we leave the figurative behind we are also leaving many of the measures of our own competency behind.
If a painter paints a figurative image it is easy to see whether they have good technique or not. Even with more expressionistic interpretations it is possible to assess the painter’s ability. This is not so with abstraction. Once the visual artist makes the decision to go abstract so to speak, he or she is sending a message to the viewer. That message is that it doesn’t matter whether the viewer thinks that the artist has talent (for want of a better word) or not. In effect, the artist is taking away the safety net. This is a huge step or rather leap for anyone to make.
Picasso provides an extreme example of what I describe above. Make no mistake. Picasso could draw as well as anyone – he was a prodigy by any definition of the word. He would have made a top flight figurative painter and no one would have ever questioned his ability yet he chose to move into the abstract where he couldn’t just fall back on his natural ability. The ‘A five year old could do that’ comment with regard to Picasso’s work has become a cliche – the man himself must have foreseen this and accepted it as part of the price of expressing himself.
I have known artists who spend years struggling with the transition from the figurative to the abstract. I have also known artists who make the transition without any difficulty at all. I have also known a few who never make the transition, who never manage to leave the safety of the figurative. Speaking personally, the more that I work with abstraction the less problematic it becomes but I do have a way to go. I am still very attached to pictorialist devices such as blur and vignetting and may have to work on that a little. Saying that, I am fairly happy with where I’m at but I don’t know how long that will be the case.
More of my abstracts: