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Author Topic: Abstraction in landscape photography  (Read 874508 times)
jmdr
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« on: June 13, 2006, 10:30:46 PM »
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I'd like to have a discussion about the role of abstraction in landscape photography- a category that is generally highly representational.

To me it seems that, generally, abstraction takes the form of a.) isolating features to the point it's hard to tell what they are, b.) motion blur, either from subject or camera movement, or c.) use of an extremely short depth of field.  It's this 3rd type of abstraction (there could be more that I've missed here) that I've begun to experiment with, and to move past, into something I haven't seen done before.

I started to experiment with greater levels of abstraction by deliberately de-focusing the image in an effort to capture the sense of my subject, rather than the details.  These images are more about the colours, tones, contrasts, the shapes of the landscape, rather than specific details.

You can see some examples of my recent work at my online gallery.

I would love to hear any comments on my work, specifically or in general, but would also like to talk about your thoughts on this matter, hear about other photographers that used abstraction in their work, etc.

Thanks,

Jonathan










« Last Edit: February 27, 2007, 12:36:38 AM by jmdr » Logged

Ray
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« Reply #1 on: June 13, 2006, 11:17:08 PM »
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Sorry! To my eyes you've just got a sereies of out-of-focus images of no value (to me).

There's nothing here I find the slightest bit interesting.
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jmdr
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« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2006, 02:09:12 AM »
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Okay Ray, fair enough (in fact it's been a fairly common reaction - though I was kind of hoping it wouldn't be the first reaction...), and thanks for the honesty.

What I'd like to know is whether what you object to is the style of the abstraction in these images (the deliberate focus shift), or the practice of abstraction in general?  I've included some examples of the three types of photographic abstraction I mentioned in my initial post.  I'd love to know whether any of these are of interest or appeal to you (or to others reading this thread). and especially I'd like to know why, or why not...

This first image is sharply focused, yet still quite abstracted in the sense that I've zoomed in close enough that the "subject" of the photograph is no longer the grass in itself, but rather the contrasting lines of light and dark, the range of colour from blue to yellow, and the repeating, gently curved lines of the blades:



This one is sharply focused, yet is of a blurry (foggy) scene:



This next image was one of my favourite winners from the 2005 BBC wildlife photographer of the year award (see here).  It was shot at f/32, so depth of field/mis-focusing is not what's creating the effect, it's the motion of the water.  Again, the effect of the technique used by the photographer is to "capture the strange effect" (quote by the photographer), rather than a split-second representation of the waterfall:



This next one of my own uses the same type of exposure settings (small aperture, long exposure time) to capture not only the colour, but also the movement of the early autumn leaves blowing in a breeze:



These last two both use short depth of field to abstract the content. The first was taken with a long lens with a large distance between the sharply-focused foreground and the background, throwing the background out of focus.  The second is a close-up taken nearly parallel to the fallen log with a wide apeture so that only a small area is in the in-focus plane.  Both these techniques, here, again have the effect focusing the attention on the colours, shapes, and lines in the photograph as a whole, rather than on the "subject" (sapling and grass shadow, respectively).





So please, let me know how (or whether) you think abstraction can play a role in appealing landscape photography.  I've been rolling these ideas around in my head by myself for a while, and would enjoy having a genuine discussion to see what other people think about all this.  (and don't worry about hurting my feelings, as long as you're truthful and respectful, I want to know exactly what you think, good or bad)(besides, I still like the blurry ones, and that's what counts to me...)

Jonathan

(Again, you can browse through a collection of my images (many far less abstract than these) at www.borealisimages.ca, or leave your comments at www.borealisimages.ca/discussionboard)
« Last Edit: July 10, 2006, 11:09:02 PM by jmdr » Logged

Ray
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« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2006, 10:13:47 AM »
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What I'd like to know is whether what you object to is the style of the abstraction in these images (the deliberate focus shift), or the practice of abstraction in general?  [a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=68142\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Jonathan,
Having looked at a few of your images, I find that some of them are very evocative and striking. They grab the attention. You seem to have an eye for making the most out of small details that others might miss. But I have to say I like your 'in focus' images much better than your 'out of focus' images.

I'm not sure that the simple technique of getting the entire image OOF constitutes a meaningful abstraction. I see this as more of a reaction against the obsession with resolution, which I also see in many of your images which appear beautifully tack sharp at the point of focus. A sharp point of interest contrasted against a blurry background is fine. When the whole image becomes the blurry background it just seems incomplete to me. Nevertheless, anyone who likes minimalist paintings might like your OOF images. I'm sometimes amazed at the amount of valuable space that is often taken up in art galleries by huge minimalist paintings that are about as interesting as a bare wall.

I suppose one good point about your OOF images, they are restful for the eyes   . Is that their purpose?
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Grev
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« Reply #4 on: June 14, 2006, 10:41:23 AM »
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I agree that the focused images are much better.  Partly because there is an "aim" to them, on the other hand the out of focused image seems "aimless".

I think out of focused images could be used if it was for like a photo diary of some sorts or a sillhouette of a easily recognised subject, other than that it just doesn't evoke.
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Tim Gray
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« Reply #5 on: June 14, 2006, 11:18:07 AM »
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from the Merriam Webster online dictionary: abstract:  having only intrinsic form with little or no attempt at pictorial representation or narrative content

I suspect the problem with the images in you original post was that they actually had too much pictorial representation - ie weren't sufficiently "abstract" - since the essential subject was still very much apparent - trees, mountain etc.  The best one was the 3 "suns" and I liked that, as an abstract, becaused it really didn't look like an out of focus photograph.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2006, 11:19:02 AM by Tim Gray » Logged
jmdr
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« Reply #6 on: June 14, 2006, 02:34:59 PM »
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Thanks again everyone for your comments.

Ray- yes, I do find the out-of-focus images to be restful.  For me, I can look at them and appreciate the colours and shapes of the image, rather than being distracted by the details.

One of my favourite quotes from the great Ansel Adams reads: "A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed." (my emphasis)  Ansel was of course known for taking only the sharpest possible images, rebelling against the prevailing trend when he was first starting of using slightly soft focus to add a "dreamy" effect, but what he said still rings true for me. When I make these blurry images, the thing that makes me take my camera out of the bag and compose a photo, and what I am trying to capture and present to the viewer, is the overall colours/shapes/patterns of the landscape, not the specific details of the scene.  As you noticed, there are times when it's the details that I find inspiring me to take a picture, and then I make sure that those details are captured sharply.

I am interested in knowing whether more "traditional" methods of rendering the entire contents of a photograph out-of-focus, such as long exposures of moving subjects, deliberate camera movement during exposure,  or multiple exposures, are more appealing to people reading this thread, and if so, why?  Maybe some of you are familiar with the work of Freeman Patterson? He is a well established canadian photographer, who has published several excellent books that encouraged me to experiment with different techniques of capturing the essence of a subject, rather than the details.  His term for this style is "photo impression".  Here are a couple examples of his work (you can find more at his website).



(camera movement, maybe even out-of-focus)



(depth of field, with no subject in focus (the light circles are dew drops))



(camera movement)



(camera movement)

Courtney Milne is another canadian photographer who's work inspired me to begin experimenting with my own work.  He too, uses the techniques I mentioned above to render his photographs as abstractions of the actual subject.  Here are a couple examples of his work, from a great book that he did in tribute to canadian authour W.O. Mitchellgreat book



(long exposure with lens zoomed during exposure (reflections on a stream))




(double exposure with camera movement)




(camera movement)

Many more of my favourite examples of Courtney's work can be seen here in a gallery of images in tribute to canadian artist Emily Carr, including these:



(camera movement)



(depth of field (??))

So do any of these images appeal to anyone? How do you react to these different techniques?  What seperates the images/techniques that you do like versus the ones that you don't like?

I'm interested to hear anyone's thoughts on this...

Jonathan
« Last Edit: June 14, 2006, 03:57:44 PM by jmdr » Logged

DarkPenguin
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« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2006, 04:05:01 PM »
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They'd make great mouse pads.
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jmdr
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« Reply #8 on: June 14, 2006, 04:06:53 PM »
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from the Merriam Webster online dictionary: abstract:  having only intrinsic form with little or no attempt at pictorial representation or narrative content
[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Tim- thank you for the interesting definition, I searched define:abstract art in google, and came up with these as the top two definitions: (my emphasis)

"Art that departs significantly from natural appearances. Forms are modified or changed to varying degrees in order to emphasize certain qualities or content. Recognizable references to original appearances may be slight. The term is also used to describe art that is nonrepresentational." [a href=\"http://www.ackland.org/tours/classes/glossary.html]link[/url]

"Not realistic, though the intention is often based on an actual subject, place, or feeling. Pure abstracion can be interpreted as any art in which the depiction of real objects has been entirely discarded and whose aesthetic content is expressed in a pattern or structure of shapes, lines and colors. When the representation of real objects is completely absent, such art may be called non-objective." link

Photography is an interesting medium in that, unlike a painting, a photograph must represent a subject that actually existed in reality.  Richard Martin wrote a great article in the March 2005 article of the canadian photography magazine Photolife.  If you're interested in this discussion, try to find a copy at your library.

It's interesting that of my blurry ones, it was the blurriest one that you prefered.  Many of the images from other photographers in my previous post still contain discernable subjects, do you find this "pictorial representation" to still be distracting with these different techniques of abstraction?  Below are some examples of my own, where I've taken the out-of-focus technique about as far as my lens would allow:







A good friend of mine shares your opinion that the blurrier the better, so I'd be interested to see what you think of these ones above, or if I happened to "hit it lucky" with the "three suns" image.  And speaking of which, this was one of the few times that I've taken an alternate, sharply focused, photograph of the same subject matter.  So at the risk of providing an alternative to the lone positive reaction so far (I'm not sure if "nice mouse-pads" is a compliment or not...), here is the two alternate versions:





Obviously, the two versions are doing two competely different things: the sharply focused image presenting a view of an interesting and beautiful sunset, the out-of-focus image presenting (hopefully) an interesting and beautiful image in it's own right, separate from the subject matter.

It seems to me that most people have a difficult time separating beautiful subject matter from beautiful image.  This seems especially true in photography, as opposed to paintings, due to the expectation of viewers that a photograph is a "true" or "accurate" depiction of the real world.

What do you think? I'd like to hear anybody's opinions on this topic.  

Jonathan
« Last Edit: July 02, 2006, 08:12:46 PM by jmdr » Logged

DarkPenguin
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« Reply #9 on: June 14, 2006, 04:40:58 PM »
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*chomp*
(I'm not sure if "nice mouse-pads" is a compliment or not...)
*chomp*

To be honest I'm not sure either.  But the first thing that went through my head was that I'd like that on a mouse pad.  (Or as a desktop.)

I think it is because it works when your focus is elsewhere.  Which makes sense since there is really no point of focus.  I'm not sure there is a catagory for art you shouldn't look at directly.
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Digiteyesed
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« Reply #10 on: June 14, 2006, 06:46:16 PM »
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Jonathan, I like your abstracts where there are elements that my eye can snap to. I find that your completely out of focus shots don't provide a 'starting point' for me (which is probably the intent), but I find it unsettling because I've spent my entire life being trained to settle my eye onto some part of whatever I'm looking at.
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Neutral Hills Stills
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BernardLanguillier
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« Reply #11 on: June 15, 2006, 04:39:12 AM »
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One from me:



Cheers,
Bernard
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Tim Gray
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« Reply #12 on: June 15, 2006, 07:45:13 AM »
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Tim- thank you for the interesting definition, I searched define:abstract art in google, and came up with these as the top two definitions: (my emphasis)

[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=68193\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]


I like the first image the most (actually quite like it).  If oof is the abstraction technique, then I think any actual representation needs to be pretty well "abstracted" out.

My preferred style of abstraction is to preserve sharp focus, but remove as much context as possible.

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jmdr
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« Reply #13 on: June 15, 2006, 10:58:22 AM »
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Jonathan, I like your abstracts where there are elements that my eye can snap to. I find that your completely out of focus shots don't provide a 'starting point' for me (which is probably the intent), but I find it unsettling because I've spent my entire life being trained to settle my eye onto some part of whatever I'm looking at.
[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

That's an interesting point Sean.  I've heard from a number of people that they are looking for something (anything) to act as a focal point in a photograph.  I think this is the same thing Grev was talking about the "aim" of an image.

I do think that a large part of the reason that viewers "require" this "snap-to" point is that, like you said, we've all been trained to view photographic images in a certain way, and anything that does not fit well with those ways of viewing photos becomes "uncomfortable".  I've been thinking that most people regard, and expect, photographs as documentation of a subject, rather than as aesthetic entities in their own right.  Not to suggest though, that the documentation can not be done in a compelling, beautiful manner.

I wonder Sean (or anyone), whether you find that the other abstraction techniques that render the entire image blurred or streaked, do provide this "starting point" or "aim", and if so, how exactly.  (I ask Sean specifically because he has some beautiful examples of camera movement, and lens zoom, during exposure posted on [a href=\"http://www.digiteyesed.com/]his website[/url])

Jonathan
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jmdr
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« Reply #14 on: June 15, 2006, 11:52:36 AM »
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...
My preferred style of abstraction is to preserve sharp focus, but remove as much context as possible.
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That's a beautiful image Tim, I also find the technique of isolating elements of the landscape is a great (and more accesible) way to get people to look more closely at the beauty around them.  

Bernard's contribution is a great example of this technique too, beautiful, but I can't tell exactly what it is. And for me, that's part of the appeal.  Not being able to discern the subject matter forces me to appreciate the photograph in it's own right, as a beautiful image, rather than as a well composed documentation of a beautiful scene.

Here's an example of my own:

[a href=\"http://www.borealisimages.ca/images/galleries/2004/earlywinter/][/url]

It's interesting that Tim mentions maintaining sharp focus when, to my eye, all of the sharp detail in your image has been rendered "out of focus" due to the distortion of the water.  It's clear from the image that, had the water not been there, you've "correctly" set your lens to the proper focal distance to capture the sharp detail, and yet it's not there.  To me, this photograph is more about the colours, the pattern of light surfaces and dark lines, and the different textures in the top and bottom of the image, rather than a picture of stones in a lake.

I've found that photographers often use water for this effect, and I am interested in the difference in reaction to images where a photographer has captured pre-existing distortion, vs. when a photographer makes a creative decision to add abstraction to an image.  I think perhaps, similar to what Sean ("digiteyesed") mentioned, people are accustomed to seeing things distorted by water, but not by photographers.

What do you think?  Is there an essential difference between the two techniques?

Jonathan
« Last Edit: July 02, 2006, 08:13:24 PM by jmdr » Logged

collum
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« Reply #15 on: June 15, 2006, 01:57:59 PM »
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a couple  more






i also tend to favor the 'remove the frame of reference' style. it does seem to add anchor points more readily
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jule
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« Reply #16 on: June 15, 2006, 04:20:57 PM »
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This thoughtful and considered discussion has inspired me to explore abstraction more.

Difficulties in determining our ability to appreciate "abstract photography" I think relates to what Ray originally suggested and others have indicated (also in this thread http://luminous-landscape.com/forum/index....showtopic=10667 )- that it is an oxymoron - because of the accepted nature of photography, that is, to capture what one can see. Digital imaging and photoshop have somewhat shifted this notion and enhancement and creative effects through photoshop have become tolerated and accepted to various degrees depending upon which area of the art one practices.

From my own artistic studies, (as I mentioned in the link above), one of the key elements of abstract art was the physical, tangible involvement with the medium. This may not be possible to the same extent with photography, unless one considers the camera or keyboard correlating with paint, pastel..etc. Perhaps because of the nature of photography this element is not important and the final product is the only element which is used to determine whether a photograph is an abstract.

Thanks for posting your images Collum, but in my mind I don't feel that they are actually abstracts. They explore shape and colour, but I don't think they satisfy many of the definitions of abstract, one of which Tim quoted above. Your images are more like close ups of rocks, rather than true abstractions.

Some of the other abstract photographs are truly beautiful and inspiring and have opened up a whole new way of seeing the world for me. Thak you also Tim, Bernard, and JMDR

It would be interesting to see whether artists-turned-photographers are able to appreciate 'blurred' out of focus photographs as abstractions without the need to have clear focal points and sharpness, more readily than photographers-turned artists.  

Julie
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Tim Gray
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« Reply #17 on: June 15, 2006, 06:39:46 PM »
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Hmmm....   I don't consider this shot "abstract"



But, on a scale of 1 - 10, I would give this an "abstraction score" of 8.  



Maybe part of the problem is that "abstract" isn't binary - an image can be "more or less" "abstract".  Of Collum's 2 images I would consider the second to be significantly more abstract than the first.

I think that the characterization of abstract might also depend on the media - what's abstract in the context of paint on a canvass might be different from what's abstract in the context of a photograph.
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jmdr
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« Reply #18 on: June 15, 2006, 06:44:04 PM »
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it is an oxymoron - because of the accepted nature of photography, that is, to capture what one can see
...
one of the key elements of abstract art was the physical, tangible involvement with the medium. This may not be possible to the same extent with photography, unless one considers the camera or keyboard correlating with paint, pastel..etc.
...
Thanks for posting your images Collum, but in my mind I don't feel that they are actually abstracts. They explore shape and colour, but I don't think they satisfy many of the definitions of abstract, one of which Tim quoted above. Your images are more like close ups of rocks, rather than true abstractions.
...
It would be interesting to see whether artists-turned-photographers are able to appreciate 'blurred' out of focus photographs as abstractions without the need to have clear focal points and sharpness, more readily than photographers-turned artists.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=68259\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Thank you Julie for some great points here, (and for the link to the other discussion- some interesting stuff going on), I'd like to respond to a little of what you've brought up:

For me, landscape photography is the epitome of "physical, tangible involvement with the medium", when I am making photographs I feel that I am fully immersed in my medium, i.e. the boreal forest that is my "palette".  I can see it, hear it, smell it, (get bitten by it).  My camera is then like a paintbrush, with which I can take what is on my palette and apply it, with different methods depending on my own creative impulses, to my "canvas" (I'm not sure where the analogy goes here, my sensor? my screen? a print? your screen? all of the above?).

I think you bring up a critical distinction between "abstraction" and what might be called "de-familiarization".  I would say that Bernard's and Collum's images (as well as my own ice pattern image) would fall into this second category.  Both these techniques go beyond "simple" representation of a subject, and force a viewer to, at least, look differently at a subject than they ever would on their own, and at the extreme, force the viewer to forget about the subject matter and to simply appreciate the image- something that is not comfortable for many people.

I have definitely found that friends of mine that are artists, be they painters, sculptors, poets, or musicians, have (overall) been more receptive to my out-of-focus photographs than have been my friends that are biologists, teachers, engineers.

It seems that the different reaction is due to a difference in the expectations of a photograph, related to the "accepted nature of photography" that you mentioned, i.e. "to capture what one can see".  I hear this often, and have thought long and hard about it.  

It's not hard to find magazine articles, etc. where the author explains that a camera does not in fact "see" the world the same way that humans do.  (e.g. the article in the Mar '05 Photolife I mentioned above).  When have you ever seen the world in black and white? with the velvia-esque colour intensity? with a narrow depth of field? with barrel distortion? in only two dimensions?  The list goes on...  A good example of one of the "conventions" of photography, is that "increasing blurriness = greater distance".  This is not the way things look like to the human eye, but rather is an effect of the lenses we use in front our cameras (technically, this is the way our eyes work too, except that they are always focusing themselves- just try to look at the blurry background when you're looking closely at a flower- it's pretty tough to catch much of a glimpse!).  And yet we have all been trained to interpret photographs this way.

I have faith though, that with enough people experimenting with abstraction, and enough practice looking at other's effort, even photographers (whom I resolutely insist get lumped into the "artist" category) will eventually be able to look at abstract photographs (oxymoronic or not), in their own right (although there's still no guarantee they'll like them...).

Jonathan
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jmdr
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« Reply #19 on: June 15, 2006, 06:53:00 PM »
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"abstract" isn't binary - an image can be "more or less" "abstract".
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=68271\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

That's definitely true Tim, and I'd agree that the "ladies in the window" is less abstract (if at all- though a very well done example of an often repeated subject, the window/reflection/subject thing) than the sea/sky-scape.  Although if you asked me, I'd say your first example of the stones is more abstracted than the other two, due to the effect of the water- and I wouldn't quite give that one a 9 or 10 out of 10...

Jonathan
« Last Edit: July 10, 2006, 11:16:09 PM by jmdr » Logged

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