Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Abstract Realism in Photography 2

Abstract forms of water, snow, driftwood, ice, stone, sand, and dry grass.


creek gully, Warren Dunes, MI

B&W photography lends itself to abstract realism—the emphasis on pure form, pure shape, contrast, line and contour—so strongly that one can look at composition, at form and not realize that this is real life. Nature is very abstract in its purist forms, which are brought out more strongly by winter. The dormant time when plants are quiescent, mimicking death, looking innately B&W rather than the colors of life.

Natural geometry is fractal and can be broken down into self-similar shapes and forms. The two most common forms in natural geometry are curved lines and triangles; there are no purely straight lines in nature, and no purely perfect circles. Rough edges abound. Nature is uneven, chaotic, with boundaries that change dimension when you examine them in greater or lesser detail.

The image is about its forms as much as its ostensible content. One sees the shapes almost before one sees what the shapes are, or represent. In the print, whether emphasizing high contrast or subtle mid-tones, the print's "performance" (to borrow Ansel Adams' term) is the end-process that began when the image was framed in the viewfinder and the shutter snapped.

The image is a process of choice, selection, artifice and expression. The fine art photographer is not pretending to reproduce nature exactly as seen, but rather to express something emotional, even spiritual, through a representation of nature that is neither faithful nor absolutely accurate.

in this image, I raised the contrast, making the darks more dramatic. The photos were taken in the last half-hour before sunset, on a cloudy cold day, near Lake Michigan. The overall natural daylight tones were soft grays. I wanted to show how black and cold the water in the stream felt to the touch, so I darkened the overall contrast. In the process, the water turned mirror-like against the sky, where it wasn't black as octopus ink. The whites of the snow and ice also became stronger, brighter, more whitened. The photo expresses the mood of the moment, without totally accurately reflecting the tones and values that the naked eye saw, in that light.

The abstraction of the image, in B&W, is also emphasized by the higher contrast. It turns it into lines and shapes and forms. One can ignore the natural detail and look at only the graphic intensity of line and shape, as though one had thrown ink on the page.

Winter photography might as well be B&W anyway, there are so few spots of color to begin with. The stark tones of winter, the bleak sky and dark water, are only exaggerated here, not invented. Still, that makes, for some photographers, this into an expressive fine art photo, rather than a mere snapshot, rather than a mere recording.

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