Have you ever pictured something in your mind that you think is a great idea but which you know can’t, of itself, have a physical existence? Put another way, have you ever imagined an image of something that isn’t literal, where the subject is secondary to what you’re seeing?
Take a look at the attached photograph. What do you think you’re looking at? Can you identify a subject and thereby know what it’s an image of? Or do you see something else, not an object, more a concept?
The truth is, although I had a specific idea in mind when I captured this image, which I’ll tell you about in a moment, the photograph is exactly what you, the viewer, makes of it. It’s deliberately mysterious and asks you if there’s more to it than initially meets your eye.
Abstract photography is risky for a photographer. It allows great freedom to imagine and create a vision. Rules? There aren’t any, in my view. But if beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, then each beholder is likely to have their own interpretation of what they’re looking at, making the image potentially unidentifiable, or worse, an object of ridicule as nothing more than a fuzzy mess.
So, what constitutes abstract photography? It’s hard to define. Other names include conceptual, experimental, or non-objective photography. Abstract photographs are most often crafted by particular uses of a camera, or the camera in association with other materials and-or post-editing techniques. The start point of any abstract image is for the picture not to have a connection with a clear subject but maybe just a fragment of a scene, where the fragment is isolated from any related context.
Any item can be used as a basis for abstract photography. This is because the item itself is not a subject being photographed. Also, while not a ‘rule’, much abstract photography focuses on three main elements: form, colour and texture. Form is the shape or shapes, line(s), geometry and-or symmetry of the scene fragment. This is generally the main substance of the image. Colour is what draws the viewer in further and (hopefully) keeps them observing for longer. Colours also provide depth and vibrance to the overall photograph. Texture provides intrigue, especially when there are contrasting textures and they appear touchable. Many abstract photographers prioritise textures to heighten image mystery and wonder. All three elements together combine to bend and distort what are otherwise familiar real-world objects.
Does abstract photography share any similarities with ‘regular’ photography? Well, as in all photography, an abstract image should engage viewers on an emotional level. In my view, abstract images must provide an element of mystery, intrigue and perhaps even provoke a mood. Also, however abstract the photographs are, they should be engaging. Thus, even if viewers are unsure about the actual subject matter, they never the less appreciate the form, colours and textures in the images. And mostly, the images must stimulate the viewer’s sense of wonder.
Regarding the attached photograph, I was interested in whether I could capture an image of falling light, or at least light hanging down. This required me to focus in on a real-world object and, using a slow shutter speed, move the camera downwards during exposure. The object used was a tree in a woodland in Cobham, Kent. The effect, for me at least, is that light is falling through the branches and leaves and then hanging, rather like bright, translucent strings of spaghetti, thereby showing itself, for a fleeting moment, in physical form.
You, of course, may not see my vision at all but something completely different. The beauty of this type of image is that whatever you genuinely see yourself in the image, is 100% fine. There is no right or wrong, just your interpretation. (I’d be very interested to know what you initially observed (if anything). Please let me know in the comments below).
Abstract photography is a way in which photographers can take viewers outside of realism. Although I don’t do much abstract photography, I’m interested in the notion that not all photography has to literally represent – document, interpret, reflect the real world. As the philosopher Walter Benjamin stated as far back as 1931 in his Little History of Photography ‘It is another nature which speaks to the camera rather than to the eye.’