By definition, “abstract” refers to the “visual language of shape, form, color, and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world.” More simply, “abstract” allows us a bit of creative freedom.
As photographers, we’re given the distinct opportunity to choose whether we would like to create images that represent a true reality or ones that are more representational of said reality. Taking a slight break from reality gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new world, perhaps a subtle world of symbolism and representation, or even the complex world of fantasy and imagination. It encompasses a sense of illusion or assumption.
Using abstract expression is an alternate way to describe visual experiences, and convey a message. It allows the photographer to hold a private conversation between the artist and the viewer. It allows you to break from reality and express the unique ideas within you. It is freeing. Abstracting your world and your work does not have to be difficult or complex. You begin right with the very world before your eyes. As you move in to a realm of abstracting, keep these ideas in mind…
“There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.” Pablo Picasso
1. Remove. Simplify.
Pull everything out of the scene except for basic shapes and form. When we “abstract”, we are essentially recognizing the basic forms of something, and the elements that make up that form. We recognize familiar lines and shapes and colors that we naturally attribute to a certain object or idea.
As we study these elements, we discover the specific role that they play in compositions. These elements are the building blocks of your message as a photographer. They allow you to express the character of the scene through shapes and forms.
Abstracting brings order and structure to your view. It allows you to create a clear visual design. It forces you to select a few elements to express your message — the simpler a message, the more likely a viewer is to grasp it.
Design your frame with purpose. Simplify your scene. Remember…simply removing the color from a scene is a form of abstraction.
2. Exaggerate. Create.
A distorted image allows the viewer to explore the frame and make visual connections with the image. The viewer is looking for recognizable traces of reality that can be associated with past personal experiences or observations. It draws the viewer in with a sense of intrigue and wonder. Exaggeration pushes distortion to the limits. It creates a world for the viewer that is much larger or much greater than in actuality — and leaves the viewer with feelings of wide-eyed marvel and sensationalism. Creative lens choices, use of perspective, focus techniques, composition, and post processing choices all can contribute to this element in the use of the abstract in your work.
3. Reflect. Represent.
A symbol is simply using something that stands for something else. It can be an idea, an object, a place, a belief, an action. You can use letters, or words, or numbers, or pictures. Using symbolic expression allows you to discover and express different aspects of yourself from within. It allows you to place a “hidden meaning” in your work. It allows you to communicate to your viewers on a universal level, but to still be open to individual interpretation.
The beauty of using the abstract in your work is that you are free to choose exactly how far you would like to extend yourself; how far you would like to push the boundaries and break from reality. It allows you to share your unique perspective of the world. It provides alternate ways of describing your personal visual experiences, of sharing those experiences with others, and it opens a world of personal expression you may never even have know existed. The realm of the abstract frees you to create the art within you, and to become an artist of your own being and accord.