Abstract Art and Photography

My first interest in fine art began when a friend encouraged me to attend the annual NCSU Design School Art Auction. I was intrigued and excited by much of the work that was presented there although I didn’t know what it was called or anything about the artists. I ended up bidding on a piece by Joe Cox, a modern design artist, and won after outbidding a local gallery owner. During this auction and several succeeding ones, I learned a lot about art and North Carolina artists. Over the years, my interests in modern and abstract art became stronger, although until very recently, I would have had a hard time describing these particular branches of art. In this writing, I will provide my definitions and interpretations of what abstract art and photography are, and how they are related. In other articles, I will attempt to describe my feelings and beliefs about fine art, fine art photography, and black and white versus color photography.

I have come to love abstract art and modern art in general. My favorite museum is the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I go there every chance I get and never have enough time to see everything I want to see. It was there that I saw my first Jackson Pollock and many other abstract artists. I was initially turned off by paintings in solid black or solid red, but later I learned to see texture and form and more importantly, parts of myself in them. It wasn’t until recently, however, that I learned how abstract art came to be and why it is intriguing to me.

In the summer of 2004, I made some digital images of the attic in the house my wife and I were renovating to show the peaks and valleys in the roof to the architect who was giving us some ideas on what to do with the ceiling of our living room. Even with my efforts to get light in the attic, the photographs came out too dark to show the detail I knew was there. To lighten the photographs, I brought them into Nikon’s photo editing software. I used the lightness tool and then the curves tool, but instead of simply lighting the image I found that I could change the grays and browns to blues, yellow, greens and many other colors, all of which brought out much more detail than basic lightening had done. Several hours later, in the wee hours of the morning, I stopped changing the colors and was amazed at the detail I could see in that dull gray attic. The colors brought out detail and beauty I could never have imagined.

Over the next few years I used this technique to modify many different photographs; from buildings being renovated, to clouds and to landscapes. The results were always colorful, exciting and gave me the feeling of being part of the photograph. I had put more of me into the photograph and the photograph had become more than the landscape or structure view. I now saw things in a photograph that I overlooked before.

In discussing these modified photographs with others, I was at a loss to know what to call them. Then one day I took them to a museum director and asked her what she thought of them and what would she call them. She liked the colors in the photographs, although she admitted her preference was toward black and white, she was not sure how to identify them. After several minutes, she decided that they were somewhat like abstract art, but were not really abstract art and thought that it would be best to identify them as nonobjective art. This seemed like an awfully broad category and I accepted it for the time being since I really did not know what either classification really meant.

For the next several years, when I was able, I spent my time making photographs of landscapes and flowers and other things that excited me, including images that I thought could be classified as fine art or abstract art. And all the time, I kept thinking about what I should call the photographs in which I radically changed the native color. Looking for words to describe this process, I came upon metamorphosis and, after passing it by a few of my friends, I decided that calling these pictures color morphed was as appropriate as any other words I could use to describe them.

It was during this time that I became more and more interested in what people were naming types of art, and particularly the classifications of photographs, with which I was dealing. I started with looking at what fine art meant and tried to find definitions of fine art photography. That investigation led me to finally learn about abstract and nonobjective art. The starting, and after much reading, the ending, of my investigation into abstract art is Wassily Kandinsky’s “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”. In this book, he establishes the basis of abstract art and brings the art community into a whole new phase of understanding and producing art.

Abstract art is, most simply defined, a painting or sculpture where color and form are the subject and are derived from the inner needs of the artist. It does not depict anything in the natural world – even in an extremely contorted or embellished way. The painting or the sculpture is the subject itself without any reference to anything else.

And this means that my color morphed photographs are not abstract and that photographs themselves cannot be abstract works of art because a photograph is the result of light reflected from a real object onto a sensor. Thus “abstract photograph” is an oxymoron – a combination of contradictory or incongruous words.

Since all photographs are of real objects, the photographs themselves cannot be considered abstract. However, many photographers have broadened the meaning of abstract to include images not only of abstract paintings and sculptures but also of images that do not readily show a real object. That is, where the object of the photograph has been extremely distorted or exaggerated so as not to be readily recognizable. I prefer to classify these photographs not as abstract, but as multimedia productions, photocompositions or even manufactured images.

There are some photographs, however, that are “near abstract”. Although, the photographs are of real objects, the resulting images do not appear to be of real objects, but do appear to be based only on form, color and an inner need. These photographs are also not the result of computer manipulation, but are the end product of image composition. These photographs, if they had been done on canvas, would be abstract art. It is this type of “near abstract” image that I have placed in my Abstract Gallery. These photographs are extremely difficult to find and capture and so there are few in this gallery. However, for other very interesting non-objective photographs see the Fractional, Color Morphed and Close-up Galleries.

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