What Makes a Good Abstract Photograph?
Judging abstract photography is hard!
This was a question posed to me by Aamir Shahzad over on Google+. To be strictly honest it was a question posed a long time ago that I forgot to answer – apologies Aamir. Anyway I figured that the answer may possibly be of interest to others so I’m posting the answer. Aamir also asked me about contemporary photographers that influence me.
What Makes a Good Abstract Photograph?
It is almost impossible to say other than within the context of what the photographer or artist wants to say so you’d have to have some notes from the artist. An abstract work can be pleasing to the eye in which case it works on a decorative level but this may or may not have been the photographers intention.
with representative (figurative) work it is easier to judge as it is possible to see whether the exposure, focal distance, and other technical aspects are mastered but even here it is not always possible to judge – the photographer may have deliberately blurred the main object in a scene to disorientate the viewer or made a composition deliberately uncomfortable as is the case with film noir.
Now there are different levels of abstraction that fall somewhere between the completely unrecognizable and the completely figurative, i.e. some elements in an image may be recognizable (figurative) whereas others are not due to such techniques as blurring, clipping blacks or blowing out lighter tones. I think that it is possible to assess these images – or at least to make a stab at it as these images are generally made with normal aesthetic conventions in mind. In other words the photographers intent is to produce a good image by fairly conventional standards.
There is no magic formula for creating a good photograph in any genre – if there was such a formula it would be discovered and art would be over – finished. The Greeks certainly tried a couple of millenium ago with their ratio and other geometric obsessions.
Regarding Post Modernism I’d say that the question ‘What Makes a Good Abstract’ moot unless I suppose the answer is couched in terms relating to the artist’s intent and nothing more. Think about it a second, photography has moved from Pictorial to Modern to Post Modern and each of these is a step away from being able to rank a work against other works.
I look at a lot of photographs of all genres but, to be honest, there are no photographers that I imitate – at least not on a conscious level. Saying that I am sure that most, if not all, of my work is derivative. I do agree with the post modern line of thought that there is nothing really new to be said artistically and that juxtaposition and rearranging existing elements is where we are currently at.
I think that i am influenced by movies more than still photographers truth be told – Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, Ridley Scott are three that immediately spring to mind. Contemporary TV also finds its way into my work, programs such as Lost and Spooks (MI5 in the US) being two that come to mind.
I also read a lot and certain authors have a way of putting images and, more importantly, atmospheres in my mind that definitely spill over into my photography. I find J.G. Ballard to be one of the most evocative and I am pretty sure that my beach photos are influenced by images that he puts in my head. M. John Harrison is another, his hard boiled sci-fi noir really has a huge impact on me. There are many others.
The more that I think about it the more I am influenced by just about everything else more than by photographers – which is a good thing I think. Anyway A couple that I have liked for a long time are Harry Callahan – wonderful minimalist work. David Bailey – epitomized the energy of the 60s in London and, along with a couple of others completely changed the place of photography, especially in the fashion world. Talking of fashion Richard Avedon, again for how he changed fashion photography. Of course David Bailey is the only one still alive and active.
As far as photographers currently working no one really stands out for me. The problem being that there are too many good ones and any list would be purely arbitrary. I see images that blow me away every day – and yes, I do realize that this is a huge cop out.
An afterthought: I post any contemporary photography pages that I come across and like to my twitter feed: http://twitter.com/steve_g2 the work of three or four photographers a day on average. Check the sidebar of this blog for the embedded feed and/or just follow me.