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Author Topic: Abstract Photography  (Read 33096 times)
Nat Coalson
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« on: December 27, 2007, 10:09:41 PM »
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My background is in graphic design. More recently, as a photographer, I see shapes and patterns, usually in two dimensions. I generally prefer images that lack depth.

I've heard it said that the best examples of photography are images that make the most use of the medium and that could not/would not be made better by using another medium. In other words, a "truly great" photograph expresses visual dynamics that could not be done better using painting, drawing etc. Such as depth of field, perspective etc.

I have some problems with this position. I like to make photographs that look like they could be made in some other medium. In this sense, the medium itself is not important, only the final image is. Also, I have heard many photographers put down the idea of "abstract photography", saying it's not even a real form of photography.

I started out wanting to make photographs that look like paintings. I know this is trite. But I get tired of photographs that look like snapshots - and many award-winning images look like snapshots to me. Although some of these images might be emotionally compelling, in my mind,  it's something less than "art".

This attached image is one that I keep coming back to as one that expresses what I am going for with my photographic work. And below is a link to my web galleries.

Time will tell if my approach is "valid" but I'd be very interested to hear your viewpoints.

« Last Edit: December 27, 2007, 10:12:56 PM by Nat Coalson » Logged

Kirk Gittings
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« Reply #1 on: December 28, 2007, 12:07:07 AM »
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Also, I have heard many photographers put down the idea of "abstract photography", saying it's not even a real form of photography.

To deny the viability of abstraction is to reject some of the greatest names in the history of the medium, including Edward Weston.
 
Anyone who suggests such should spend an afternoon reading a history of photography.
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James Godman
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« Reply #2 on: December 28, 2007, 01:03:21 AM »
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My feeling is that as long as you like the results you are getting, or at least are getting somewhere, then your approach is perfectly valid.
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cecelia
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« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2008, 01:26:44 PM »
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If you go back through the history of photography and certainly to the era of Man Ray you have a solid precedent for abstract work.  The images on your web site are terrific - I recommend you go boldly forward without apology.

-Cecelia
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« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2008, 01:34:10 PM »
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Nat:  I agree with the others.  Do what feels and looks right for you.  Take a look at some of John Paul Caponigro's work or John Reuter's work for example.  Not as abstract as the image you posted, but they're definitely following their own paths.

Mike.
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jule
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« Reply #5 on: January 02, 2008, 05:14:54 PM »
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Although some of these images might be emotionally compelling, in my mind,  it's something less than "art".

We could go round and round discussing what is and is not 'art', which I do not want to do, but I presume when you say that some of the "award-winning images" to which you are referring, are from the documentary genre. Am I correct?

I think that what makes a good image is one that IS emotionally compelling, and DOES elicit an emotional response in the viewer, regardless of the genre. I think the difficulty which lies in abstract photography is to create an image which does this as well, and not just be a composition of shapes or blurry forms etc.

To create a good abstract image, I think emotional response must be elicited, otherwise the image is just another one of those 'different' photographs.  I don't think it is enough to have just 'different' and interesting shapes in an abstract image. For me, it must connect me with something which I hadn't perhaps felt before, or created an emotion, reflection or introspection.  ... not necessarily happy, happy emotion.... just affecting me in some way.

I am striving , and struggling   , to create abstract images which affect me as much as emotionally driven documentary images do.

Julie
« Last Edit: January 02, 2008, 05:15:51 PM by jule » Logged

Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2008, 07:23:09 PM »
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I think that what makes a good image is one that IS emotionally compelling, and DOES elicit an emotional response in the viewer, regardless of the genre. I think the difficulty which lies in abstract photography is to create an image which does this as well, and not just be a composition of shapes or blurry forms etc.

To create a good abstract image, I think emotional response must be elicited, otherwise the image is just another one of those 'different' photographs.  I don't think it is enough to have just 'different' and interesting shapes in an abstract image. For me, it must connect me with something which I hadn't perhaps felt before, or created an emotion, reflection or introspection.  ... not necessarily happy, happy emotion.... just affecting me in some way.
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Julie,

Very well said. You expressed exactly the way I feel. Any image without emotional impact is boring, IMHO. This applies to landscapes, portraits, documentary, photojournalism as well as abstracts.

For me, many of Edward Weston's images (especially the late Point Lobos ones) have that impact, while Brett's generally have less of it. Minor White's images were all pretty emotional, as are those of both Paul Caponigro and his son John Paul, though very different from each other.
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Nat Coalson
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« Reply #7 on: January 02, 2008, 08:31:51 PM »
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Julie - I agree, you've hit it right on. And yes, you are correct that I was referring to documentary photos looking like snapshots...

I've found that making compelling abstract photography is challenging, precisely for the reasons Julie so succinctly described. And I generally prefer to make my images "in the camera". Although all of my work is processed digitally, I don't do a lot of compositing or heavy manipulation. It's hard to find subject material that makes an interesting, truly abstract composition that is also emotionally compelling.

I've been a fan of John Paul Caponigro's work for many years, though I wouldn't necessarily call most of his work abstract. I think of it more as "digital art" than photography and many elements of his composites are representational/documentary.

In 2008, one of my "resolutions" is to study the work of abstract painters (and this was also suggested to me by JP Caponigro in one of his workshops). I am eager to learn what abstract artists working in other mediums understand about eliciting emotional response from the simplest arrangements of shape, line and color.

As for abstract photography, I too like Man Ray's work a lot. Freeman Patterson also has a good eye for abstraction, and more recently, I like a lot of Tony Sweet's work as well. For nature photography, I really like William Neill's work.

Another school of art that really interests me for photographic application is surrealism. But again, most of the surrealistic "photography" that I've seen is heavily composited.

My love of photography comes from a need for exploration and experimentation, while also working to master fundamental techniques of the craft. Alternative printing methods, mixed media, multimedia, etc. are all very appealing to me.

By the way, the photo I posted above is a "straight shot" of a fiberglass slide in a kid's playground, and if you look closely you will see it's entirely in-focus; you can see scratches in the surface of the slide. The soft shapes/shadows are cast by vertical bars on the upper sides of the slide. This image is part of a series entitled Playgrounds I (see my site for the rest)... a concept I plan to explore further.

Below is another recent select... emotionally compelling? I'm not sure. But I like it. And I wonder, within the realm of interior decor (especially in corporate environments), whether an interesting design is enough without being overt.
« Last Edit: January 02, 2008, 08:43:15 PM by Nat Coalson » Logged

Ken Tanaka
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« Reply #8 on: January 02, 2008, 10:16:26 PM »
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This is a good discussion.

In considering photographic work may I suggest that you drop the term "abstract" and broaden your thinking to conceptual photographic work.  ("Abstract" has become a bit dated in the art world and justifiably so.  It's foundations are too limiting, as a true abstract work should represent a visual abstraction of something in the physical world.)

In considering conceptual work you must first largely ignore the medium.  By that I mean that whether you use a camera, a paint brush, computer graphic tools, or a crayon is largely irrelevant.  The point of the work is to convey a visual concept.  Whether the work presents identifiable figures or not is also only relevant to the whole.

Beate Gütschow's work is a good contemporary example of conceptual photographically-based work.  He constructs landscapes and cityscapes from individual elements of other images to create specific visual effects.  A a glance his images look like normal photos.  But they're not.

I recently had the opportunity to spend an evening listening to Abe Morell discuss his long and distinguished career as a photographer and an educator.  He remarked that since he began using photographic media to create more conceptual works (rather than simply using a camera to capture photographs) he's begun to feel more like an artist and less like a technician.  

I think if you can break free from the boundaries of considering yourselves "photographers", even for short periods, you'll find it a creatively and emotionally liberating exercise.  Decide that you're going to do at least one conceptual project just for yourself in 2008.
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Kirk Gittings
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« Reply #9 on: January 02, 2008, 10:39:57 PM »
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I think if you can break free from the boundaries of considering yourselves "photographers", even for short periods, you'll find it a creatively and emotionally liberating exercise. Decide that you're going to do at least one conceptual project just for yourself in 2008.

Just curious, what images on your site you consider "free of the boundaries" of considering yourself a photographer? There are some nice images there, but a fairly common modernist photographic aesthetic.
« Last Edit: January 02, 2008, 10:42:22 PM by Kirk Gittings » Logged

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jule
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« Reply #10 on: January 02, 2008, 11:41:57 PM »
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This is a good discussion.

In considering photographic work may I suggest that you drop the term "abstract" and broaden your thinking to conceptual photographic work.  ("Abstract" has become a bit dated in the art world and justifiably so.  It's foundations are too limiting, as a true abstract work should represent a visual abstraction of something in the physical world.)

In considering conceptual work you must first largely ignore the medium.  By that I mean that whether you use a camera, a paint brush, computer graphic tools, or a crayon is largely irrelevant.  The point of the work is to convey a visual concept.  Whether the work presents identifiable figures or not is also only relevant to the whole.

Beate Gütschow's work is a good contemporary example of conceptual photographically-based work.  He constructs landscapes and cityscapes from individual elements of other images to create specific visual effects.  A a glance his images look like normal photos.  But they're not.

I recently had the opportunity to spend an evening listening to Abe Morell discuss his long and distinguished career as a photographer and an educator.  He remarked that since he began using photographic media to create more conceptual works (rather than simply using a camera to capture photographs) he's begun to feel more like an artist and less like a technician. 

I think if you can break free from the boundaries of considering yourselves "photographers", even for short periods, you'll find it a creatively and emotionally liberating exercise.  Decide that you're going to do at least one conceptual project just for yourself in 2008.
[a href=\"index.php?act=findpost&pid=164714\"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

Yes, this is a good discussion Ken. I am not sure however whether dropping the term 'abstract' will be any advantage, when in fact many are exploring 'abstract' images and that is what we are looking at.

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("Abstract" has become a bit dated in the art world and justifiably so. It's foundations are too limiting, as a true abstract work should represent a visual abstraction of something in the physical world.)
 I think this limiting factor of visual abstraction, is the exact thing which I am trying to explore through photography, to create abstract images which are a catalyst for emotional response.

I am an artist and most of my work is conceptually based, (other than my family and happy snap pics). If I were to start a discussion about my 'conceptually based photo-media images', how would I describe the ones which are not of clearly recognisable subject matter and are abstractions of the physical world??

Beate Gütschow's work is conceptually based, and she (not a he as you have stated) "directly probes questions of pictorial representations of reality", but as far as I can ascertain, her work is quite far removed from the abstract representations of the world using photomedia to which this thread is devoted.


If we 'ignore the medium', is it not valid that the camera and processing techniques be used to develop the notion of 'abstraction' further, and evolve this concept from drawing and painting into the 21st century?

I love conceptually based photography, but I see it as an umbrella for many facets of photomedia, one of which is abstract.

Julie
« Last Edit: January 02, 2008, 11:51:35 PM by jule » Logged

Nat Coalson
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« Reply #11 on: January 03, 2008, 12:08:36 AM »
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I tend to agree that "abstract" is very different than "conceptual".

Trinidad MacAuliffe produces work that is highly conceptual but not in the least bit abstract.

In reverse, I think that the most purely abstract work I admire is actually low in conceptual content and mainly "eye candy".

I also believe that although visual art is ultimately about the imagery, effective words must be used in order to adequately convey the intentions of the artist. In that respect, I find these kinds of discussions further my understanding and clarify my resolve and I appreciate all the perspectives offered here.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2008, 12:10:16 AM by Nat Coalson » Logged

Ken Tanaka
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« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2008, 01:04:44 AM »
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OK.  Mea culpa on Beat's gender!  I've recently seen her work at the Museum of Contemporary Photography and own a signed copy of her monograph.  But I've not met her.  

Regarding "abstract" versus "conceptual", I apologize for bringing it up.  Taxonomy and nomenclature really don't amount to much unless you're a curator, eh?  

Nat, I think you may be interested in a book I've been perusing for a while.  Richard Zakia's Perception and Imaging decomposes images into their most basic components to analyze why and how images impact us.  I believe that this book will be extremely inspirational for the type of imagery you are doing.

Have fun!
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« Reply #13 on: January 03, 2008, 02:22:13 AM »
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Regarding "abstract" versus "conceptual", I apologize for bringing it up.  Taxonomy and nomenclature really don't amount to much unless you're a curator, eh? 



Have fun!
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Hey Ken, no need t apologise at all. Civilised discussion can only help us all, and I thank you for bringing it up.

Julie
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« Reply #14 on: January 03, 2008, 08:08:20 AM »
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Julie - I agree, you've hit it right on. And yes, you are correct that I was referring to documentary photos looking like snapshots...[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
In the real Art world as opposed to those on here like who do 'Fine Art' printing, there does seem to be a rejection of good composition and to some extent good technique and the resulting images can look like snapshots.

The winner [Richard Boll] of a  very prestigious portrait competition [The National Portrait Gallery 2006]got I think it was £20,000/$40,000 for this shot.
[a href=\"http://www.npg.org.uk/live/imgexhi/ppp_Boll.jpg]http://www.npg.org.uk/live/imgexhi/ppp_Boll.jpg[/url]
Info about the photo here
http://www.npg.org.uk/live/photoprizewinner.asp

 Martin Parr is probably one of the best known of these reportage/art photographers.
Typical shots here
http://static.flickr.com/93/243211718_5422195bcc_o.jpg
http://blog.magnumphotos.com/images/parr_P...07Z00022-21.jpg
But if you look at Parr's early work, it is beautifully composed and B+W and anything but snapshot like. But I feel too many of those who present amateurish/snapshot like work as art, do so as that's actually the best they can actually do.

Nat - I like the slide shot BTW, I do like abstract work and it's not something you see on here on LL very often. Though there was a thread on here a while back with people blurring images as they thought was all you needed to do abstract, not realising you still have to carefully compose the image.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2008, 08:28:49 AM by jjj » Logged

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« Reply #15 on: January 03, 2008, 08:50:03 AM »
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Nat:  I also make abstract images, and receive comments ranging from "I love that!" to "It is not real photography."

While I am always on the lookout for an abstraction within ordinary objects, isolated by the camera, I also enjoy starting with a photograph and then manipulating it into an abstraction, using Photoshop.  Sometimes the original object is no longer detectable, although I try to keep some visual connection.  Years ago, I composed in the Musique Concret style, where recordings of actual sounds were then altered electronically, and I carried that concept into my photo work.

There are many factors that produce changes in art styles.  Among them, musical as well as visual, is the feeling that a set of compositional "rules" that actually have come after the practice of artists, have become limiting, cliches, predictable, and generally constricting in what is expressed. What is considered "good form" in photographs can lead to great numbers of beautiful pieces, all with horizons 1/3rd from the top or bottom, the brightest area coinciding with the most important subject, not centered but also at that supposedly magic 1/3rd from the frame edge.
You can page through books of such stunningly beautiful works and the total effect can be boring.

Attempting to break through a given style often results in a period of exploration and freedom, which, if successful, ultimately leads to a codification of new "rules" derived from what the artists in the new style have been doing.  Needless to say, this can lead to the next artistic need to "escape" from the newer "traditions."  

Fortunately today, because of instant communications as well as being able to record and preserve everything we do, we are in a highly eclectic period when all styles coexist and are practiced.  What sometimes amazes me is that techniques of painting and photography that were "modern" from the 1880's through the 1960's, which artists have moved through to other styles, are still considered "out there" and very controversial by many viewers as well as photographers who are not really conversant with much of the art of the last century.

I agree with the advice stated in some of these responses, to:

1) Keep doing what you enjoy and find challenging.
2) Explore the galleries and museums not only for contemporary photography as well as that of the last century, but also paintings and sculpture.
3)  Read the various catalogues issued by the Whitney Museum, MOMA, and other sources, that present photographs comprising a given exhibition, complete with statements by the artists as well as critics, curators and art historians, putting the exhibit into context.

This is really a very exciting time to be doing art-based photography.
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« Reply #16 on: January 03, 2008, 11:39:26 AM »
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Fortunately today, because of instant communications as well as being able to record and preserve everything we do, we are in a highly eclectic period when all styles coexist and are practiced......
.....This is really a very exciting time to be doing art-based photography.
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I'd say instant communications leads to a glut of people without any vision of their own copying any new ideas, so that anything fresh or new, becomes overused and tedious very quickly.  Planets/HDR for example. Not sure that particular aspect is exciting? We also seem to be heading towards the stage of monkeys typing out Shakespeare, with regard to photography.
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Rob C
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« Reply #17 on: January 03, 2008, 12:33:52 PM »
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jjj

I think you already know how I feel about the contemporary photographic art scene, but if you don´t, just let me thank you for the link to the Richard Boll picture because you have encapsulated for me, in one image, everything that I find depressing in what passes for art in this medium.

In fact, I find the validity of this sort of stuff is even less than that of street photography actually shot in, say, a city street, where you are at least taking the risk of a creative kick in the testimonials.

When all is said and done (in photography, too, much more will be said than done), there has to be some question over the point of this kind of picture. In its early days, HC-B, Doisneau, Ronis, etc. etc. did have a purpose: they were employed by predominantly left-wing publications to document with a slant to suit editorial agendas. Later, the NY City photographers doing street took it to a personal, obsessive level, and one has to ask for whom this material was made, other than for the gratification of the photographer´s personal ego trip

Which, perhaps, indicates that a deeper question lies behind this: why does the ego demand this sort of image making? Is it a photographic exercise, is it a personal journey to find the limits of one´s own courage or even speed of operation? Is there even any market today for that kind of stuff? (Somehow, I find it sticks in my craw to describe it as work.) Insofar as market for it, perhaps winning a competition is the only return that might be hoped for in some way. Or, do the photographers doing this today think, at the time of shooting, that they really are the inheritors of past glories? And how does the illusion survive the final, if not the first, edit?

Perhaps photography just ceased to have any continuity; perhaps last decade´s heroes really do not count any more. Perhaps art doesn´t mean anything anymore either, beyond a handy name upon which to dangle anything that is intrinsically worthless but patently exists.

And I had hoped so much for a better 2008!

That´s a joke - I ceased expecting things would improve a relatively long time ago; would have been thrilled to have been proven mistaken, though.

Ciao - Rob C
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« Reply #18 on: January 10, 2008, 12:55:30 PM »
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Well Nat I'm looking forwards to seeing some of your images on Saturday at Qube.

Interesting discussion, as noted before.  I'll admit up front to currently being mired in "snapshooting" as my vision and technical experience has not yet matured.  I find I far too often take pictures that turn out to be records of my presence at someplace at sometime and fall short of conveying the emotions that are personally tied to that moment.

I think you might be interested in Brooks Jensen's latest editorial in Lenswork, as he rails against the photography of things and ego and the lack of vision into the ability of photography to explore the deeper things in life.

This group aside (and ironically perhaps including me) most people believe the Photography should show things.  I certainly agree that there is an idea that if you'd like to represent abstract forms and colours you'd best not be a photographer as that isn't what photographers do.  

Does this mean that you should stop exploring the artisitic ability of photography to depict ideas in the abstract? Certainly not.

Does this mean that your efforts shouldn't be considered art? No. But.....

Does this mean that everyone will appreciate your work as a viable form of artisitic expression? No.

There was another post recently on another board asking a very similar question.  The other gentleman's abstraction consisted more of severly out of focus images that attempted to abstract the colour and forms but ended up looking like out of focus images.

I enjoy the images you've posted, even if photographic abstraction really isn't my thing (but then again, I don't particularly care for the truely abstract in other media either, now surreal, that I can get behind).  

In the current Lenswork some photographs by Josef Hoflehner have images that I aspire to when thinking of abstract photography. Images that are clearly of something (in these cases the interface of sand and water and a snow covered boulder) but when examined tend to melt into past experiences and thereby bringing forth emotions.

Anyways, sorry for the ramble.  
Cheers,
Alex
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« Reply #19 on: January 11, 2008, 07:08:09 AM »
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FWIW Nat your thread caught my attention, I checked out your images and find my interest tickled.  At a time when I've been in the doldrums, photographically speaking, the discussion and the work has come as a welcome stirring of the air.  Not only do I like the images, I'm intrigued and stimulated by them.

Some of Nat's "abstract" images remind me of what might be called an ECM aesthetic (ECM site), although Nat's work is less sombre.
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