There are a couple of ways that we can think about the word abstract. In the academic publishing world, authors often must write “abstracts” that provide the reader with an overview of the essential points of an article or a dissertation or a book. The writer focuses in on those points that give the work its shape and direction. In art, “abstract” often refers to a nonliteral artistic representation of an idea, theme or subject, often relying on color or shape to suggest the subject.
I’m going to refer to Freeman Patterson again. He writes of the photographer’s need to abstract a subject or scene to see the lines, shapes, and colors and tonality. He suggests that since our subjects are made up of these things, then it is necessary to see those things. And sometimes, we can use these elements to suggest a subject in a non-literal way.
I am often fascinated by reflections in water. There is enough literal detail in this image (the shoreline with the bottoms of the trees) to indicate that I am making a photograph of trees. However, the main part of the image is the reflection. When I took the image, the wind was blowing and the lake surface was ripples.. Nature made the image an abstract. The trees reflected on the water’s surface suggest autumn color without being a literal representation.
There are other ways to make abstract photographs. David du Chemin suggests horizontal or vertical camera movement to blur the image. Using a subject with straight lines works very well for this type of photography.
Kim Manley Ort suggests focusing on a part of a subject and capturing just enough of the subject to suggest what it is, as I did for this image of the zinnia.
Andy Carr in his book on the practice of contemplative photography takes it a step further and says that we can focus on the color alone or a particular shape or line. There really is no one way to “do” abstract photography.
Making abstract photographs, though does force us to slow down and look closely at the object or the scene and pick out the most telling detail. In some ways, it is like deconstructing the subject and examining each part. Sometimes, the abstract says more to the viewer than the literal interpretation.