BEING SPECIFIC ABOUT PHOTO ABSTRACTION|
by H. Gay Allen
H. Gay Allen is a former professional photographer who combines an art education, computer skills and photography experience to create and sell photographic fine art pieces. She also offers portfolio reviews and critiques. Of her work she says: "I manipulate photographic images because I want my art to connect with the viewer's passions, even passions they did not know they had. I seek to go from the pixel level on the screen to the cellular level in my viewers; and technology allows me to achieve intricacy and intimacy simply, so that my creativity can soar!"
H. Gay Allen's website:
First of all, ALL art is abstraction. But not all abstraction is deemed to be art. The very fact that we, as artists, seek to communicate to others what we have felt about scenes and experiences in our lives is justification for the creation of our work, because we are "vocalizing" our vision; or, you might say, "representing our reality." However in doing so, it is helpful, to the artist and the viewer, if certain basic guidelines are taken into consideration. (I say guidelines because I'm not a big fan of the concept "rules.") And here I am referring to the basic tenets that art educators and curators use, but also to what centuries of art commentaries and art purchases have revealed.
So, you might ask, "If all artistic expression is valid, how do I know when I am creating "good" art?". Let's break it down, using the tools and materials relating to photography.
TYPES OF ABSTRACTION IN PHOTOGAPHY
Natural Photo Abstraction
This is what we might call "natural abstraction" because nature created the reality of a sunrise after a storm AND nature created the lagoon which reflected the beauty, for us to capture. This is what we had historically been calling "unaltered photography," until someone pointed out "the Bayer Layer," in the digital camera. This is the "layer" that digitally translates what is seen, into what is captured. Most digital cameras had or have it or something like it. Basically, it chops up the scene into pixels and in the process clarifies and enhances what is recorded.
Intentional Photo Abstraction
The next category could be called "intentional abstraction." The artist is taking a known subject and looking at it in a different way. You can recognize the subject matter, but also enjoy it for the altered design the artist has created. By taking a known subject further away from the natural view, to a more artistic view, the artist is asking the viewer to expand her or his senses and enjoy the scenes and ideas in a different way.
Total Photo Abstraction
And then there's "total abstraction," where there may be no subject matter that is recognizable. This is what is most frequently called "abstract" or "modern art." This is art that is not dependent upon the viewer's recognition of the specific scene being presented. The artist simply satisfies her, or his, own need to express or create, without regard to "reporting" reality. The artist is making his or her own statement; or presenting an "open-ended" question", the answer to which is in the mind of the viewer. And since each person's neural network processes information differently (based on experience, education and preferences), it could be said that all "questions" or art statements are valid; and all "answers," or responses to the statements, are valid, too.
Truth is, what photographic artists are creating now with digital is nothing new. In 1921, Edward Steichen (STI-KIN) made this silver gelatin photo called Wind Fire. He was shooting Isadora Duncan's daughter, Theresa, and remarked, "The garments were flickering like flames in the wind." His methods have not been revealed; but it is not hard to agree that he has created a visual poem of what he felt at the time.
The gentleman in the bottom row (second from left) is Jerry Uelsmann, who, during the 1960's worked with painters and sculptors who were, as he observed, "Interacting with their art as it was being created". It occurred to me that the darkroom could serve as a visual research lab. I did not invent this method; it was widely used by Oscar Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson, in the 1850's. All of the works surrounding him were created before digital came into being.
TIPS AND TRICKS TO MAKE YOUR PHOTO ABSTRACTIONS EXCELLENT
Abstract photography uses lines, colors, forms/shapes and flow as the primary tools to create the finished piece.
LINES - The lines tell the story. Digitally altered repetitious lines can create shapes that are essentially the same, but create an interesting, interactive flow. Take a sheet of tracing paper, put it over your art and trace the lines you see. Too many or not enough? You decide.
COLORS - If you have a photo that seems to be "ALL" about color and you want to test to make sure your other design parameters are sound, print it on plain ole letter paper. That mutes the colors so that you can more easily see the overall structure and movement of the work. In that way you can make sure that none of the other parameters are detractors to your color choices and visa versa.
FORMS AND SHAPES - The most common form of abstraction today is layering and what that does is combine forms from more than one photo. SO, you need to be very careful to assess the result, by looking at each of the three forms you end up with: the two original forms as they appear in the final version, and the third overall combined form created by the layering process.
FLOW - This is an example of intersecting shapes that create interesting flow. Flow is not always left to right; here again in your final piece you should assess the flow of three things: the path from whites or lights to other whites; the path from blacks or darks to other blacks; and the path that results from the intersections of the new shapes you have created.
(Continued next column)
MUSEUMS, COMMUNITIES, GALLERIES|
Digital Art Gallery Online
Digital gallery of best pictures and photos from portfolios of digital artists.
Digital Art Served
Soho Arthouse (Soho Gallery For Digital Art)
DAM - Digital Art Museum
Los Angeles Center for Digital Art
Museum of Computer Art
Digital Art Online
Museum of Digital Fine Arts
Digital Arts: California
Here is a piece that contains all the design elements:
The FORM of this photo is a triptych (three sections.)
The LINES are created by the reeds of the swamp and the two dark separations of the three parts of the triptych.
The FLOW is two-fold: linear and direct, from left to right; and geometric from the center outward.
The COLORS create their own SHAPES, add to the DEPTH and provide CONTRAST
When designing an abstract photo knowing all your possibilities is key. Turn your photos in every direction and you will see new possibilities.
Affinity asks "how do the subjects of my photograph interact?" They don't have to touch; they don't have to face each other, but the best abstract photos will demonstrate that there are shared qualities between various subjects and objects in your artwork. The abstract use of light creates experiential excitement in our artwork. Without light we would not exist; therefore we are hard-wired and soft-wired (psychologically) to depend on the use of it to give us life and an understanding of our world. Use light to your advantage.
We are seeking animals. As photographers and artists we are therefore animals that do not shy away from the mystery of life. Creating absolutely perfect photos of a sunset is great and you can be applauded for doing that; but sometimes you must leave a little something to the imagination to find the appreciation you seek.
And remember, DESIGNING photography with digital tools is not about showing the computer's perspective, but showing YOUR perspective. It's about taking a picture of a scene and creating a visual poem for the viewer to experience. So give yourself permission to explore. And don't be afraid to fail, because in actuality, the only failure is to NOT to learn from each attempt.
MISTAKES TO AVOID
A bad photo is a bad photo and no amount of digital manipulation can cover up a poorly executed shot. I see altered photos everyday that try to mask mistakes. If you are faced with the shot of your life and you are not prepared to capture it, post-production might help a little, but it will never make it great. So why waste your time? You can spend hours and hours trying to get down a road that doesn't exist and chances are you knew it in your heart when you saw the capture the first time. You must adhere to the best technical and artistic principles to begin with. And then you are "ready" to have fun.
Do not over use a tool, filter, script, function, or effect. When you repeatedly use a tool it diminishes the "wow" factor the next time it is seen. Over-use of a certain effect might be a fun idea for you, but after viewing about three gausine blurs, my mind goes blur. Extremes rarely work. But it's good to know what they are like. The first thing I do with a tool or filter is take it to extremes on both ends, just to learn what it does. Then I go to the middle and find my best fit. The tool may be capable of extremes but taking a photograph of a delicate, pastel colored orchid and turning into a fuscia flower may result in incongruities which cannot be justified by "artistic license." Lots of exacting experimentation will teach you what works and where the limits are. And those limits are different for every shot.
Use repetition only to a point. Layering 58 dead bird heads on a page is (pun intended) overkill. Again, just because you can do something does not mean you should waste your and the viewer's time with it. If you have a great shot of a dead bird leave it at that. If you replicate it, make sure that the SUM is greater than the parts.
A big mistake being made today is not paying attention to context. It doesn't matter whether you do traditional, commercial, abstract or astral photography, your subject matter exists in some context and you must pay attention to the ecology of that. Ask yourself, "What is the relationship between my subject matter and every other thing in the photo? Is there affinity? Does each item relate to the whole?" If you cannot answer yes, then you need to question the validity of having each subordinate object in the photo.
Brush up on your knowledge of color psychology. Over-saturation is the most frequent mistake I am seeing lately. Just as difficult to "like" is the juxtaposition of colors that create mixed messages. Colors evoke responses in humans and so will your use of them. Make sure they are the responses you wanted.
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