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Foundation Skills Course – Week 7 Learning from the greats

This week we continued our exploration of Abstract Photography by looking at two great photographers who share a connection: Alfred Stieglitz and Minor White. Both men were inspirational leaders, turning photography into an art form.

Stieglitz was probably responsible for the birth of abstract photography through his creation of cloud photographs he called, ‘Equivalents’. For over 10 years from 1922 Stieglitz photographed clouds with the intention that they conveyed emotion. This was very much in vogue at the time in art – the idea that colour, shape and line could convey an emotional context.

Minor White, who for a while worked with Stieglitz, was very taken with the idea of Equivalents. He used it as a basis to develop his personal explorations of how scenes in nature could resonate with the photographer and enable them to create photos of how they felt at the time. He believed that these photos had no requirement to conform to known ideas of visual design, such as red for danger.

After a discussion about these ideas the students were invited to go out into nature and create their own equivalents. Here they are.

What has abstract photography ever done for me?

There was a time when I just did not get abstract photography. What was its point? Pretty patterns, shifty shapes and creative colour all looked OK, but what did it mean? I was more of the literal photographic field, telling tales of human life. Real people, real lives.

I am not sure when it changed, so I assume it must have been gradual, but I have now swung the other way. I get it. Well, I get what it does for me. Does it work for you? Let me share what it does for me. You might change your mind.

Let’s start with a definition: abstract (adjective) “relating to or denoting art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but rather seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, colours, and textures”.

OK, so it is photography that does not attempt to represent external reality. Instead through choice of shapes, colours, patterns and textures it “seeks to achieve its effect.” And in the case of abstract photography this creates the opportunity for an emotional response to a photograph.

Abstract Photography is a little like poetry. With poetry the words, rhythms and spaces create images in our mind that connect with our heart. With Abstract Photography it is the shapes, colours, patterns and textures we choose to frame that create the emotional connection. We are less concerned with what the object is (because it is not easily defined) and more receptive to how we feel about the photograph.

Fooling the Mind

 

Here’s a little test. When you first saw this photo what happened? In fractions of a second your mind took in the colour, shapes, shadow and lines and tried to find a match to a previously known object. You were searching for a label to name the object. We do like to make sense of this world and of course it is this ability that keeps us alive!

What if you can’t identify what it is? What happens then? Your mind has absorbed other facts. The colours, shapes, patterns, lines etc all suggest ideas and feelings. These ideas and feelings are generated from our personal experience and from our culture. For example: white symbolises purity, cleanliness; the downward curve could be the edge of a sad mouth. We are reading the photo and connecting with how we feel about it.

 

OK, who didn’t see waves here? There we go, our mind trying to conceptualise – to make sense of the visual cues. There is not water of any kind in this photo. It’s all tarmac, concrete and metal. Most importantly though, how does it make you feel?

So are you intrigued? Do you want to learn more? On my Online Mindful Photography Course (available in September 2017) I look in depth at creative abstract photographers and delve into the opportunities abstract photography presents to create photographs that make an emotional connection. You will learn different approaches to representing your emotions in a photograph and how to create photographs when you are experiencing strong emotions. This then provides support for processing some of life’s difficult experiences. Yes, a mindful approach to photography can help and support you!

All you have to do is keep an eye on the website, maybe subscribe to the blog (in the footer below) or download the FREE eBook, which will not only provide some thoughts on Mindful Photography, it will also get you subscribed to my Monthly Newsletter.

P.S. The photos were of a kettle and a car parked by the pavement

External Reality Internal Resonance

I have recently changed my camera system. After more than ten years as a Canon DSLR gunslinger I have traded everything in for a Fuji mirrorless system. What’s all that about then? Why choose to make any change? And why choose that change?

I am living through a period in my life of great change. I have made some choices, choices to live in a certain manner, that have sent ripples through my life. These have primarily impacted upon my relationships and livelihood. What I have noticed, in that process, that once you start with major change not only does each change have fundamental consequences, there is also a burgeoning desire to make other changes.

Whilst changing camera system might seem unimportant in itself, it is related to the life changes and could be seen as a metaphor for them. I have changed to a simpler, lighter, smaller system. In making the change I have had to ask myself what is important in creating photos? What do I need to achieve that? The outcome is one Fuji XT2, the kit lens and one prime lens – the 35mm f1.2.

Those choices are about portability and focal length preference. They are born out of experience. Experience and knowledge of how I work best. How I see the world. And it is in this respect that it is a choice that chimes with my other life choices. Simplifying and responding to what feels real, authentic and true.

Creating Photos

So there I am with my new shiny new camera. And just like starting a new job or primary relationship there is unfamiliarity and uncertainty. I breathe, return to myself, and remember that there is something in the creation of an abstract photograph that calls to me.

It is worth reflecting for a moment what abstract art is. It is defined as relating to or denoting art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but rather seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, colours, and textures. Its effect is that in losing your clear link to an identifiable object you connect with how the photo/art makes you feel. This feeling is conveyed by the use of colour, shapes, colour, texture and the other visual elements of design.

In this process the artist can express how he feels, though how the viewer feels when viewing the photos may be different. But it is in this sharing that the magic lies. For the photographer can aspire to the broader definition of abstract – existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence – abstract concepts such as love or beauty.

I can be experiencing an emotion, thought or idea and through my visual design choices I can attempt to convey my experience. For me the true magic lies in the gaps between our common cultural interpretations of visual design elements, the personal experience I am living through and the viewer’s current lived experience. It is this interaction, which is part in my control and choice and part completely free of my interference that calls to me.

So there I am with my shiny new camera. It is unimportant. What is present is my experience in that moment and what I can see in front of me. These four photos represent that experience. They are the interaction between the external reality and my internal resonance of that reality. What I was feeling and what you feel (once you have got beyond the need to try and identify what the objects are!) is the magic between us.

 

Sunny Promenaders

My ongoing exploration of creating abstract photos of people promenading around Swansea Bay has recently been illuminated by our summer sunshine. After the last set, taken at a difficult time on a dank day, I thought I would share the latest, more upbeat, examples.

These were taken at a cafe that sits on the promenade near my entrance onto Swansea Bay. The cafe seats are perhaps a little closer to the subjects promenading than in other examples and I had to dial down the aperture a little as it was so bright. Which one is your favourite?

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