A timeline of the appearances of Abstract Photography We see instances of abstract photography through most of the movements. However, abstract photography is best known as a strong a reaction to World War II.
What is Abstract Photography? “Relating to or denoting art that does not attempt to represent external realities, but rather seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, colours, and textures.” -- Oxford English Dictionary
Strong emphasis on form: Shapes Textures Colours Line
Subject matter and/or meaning is often not clear or hidden Forms are abstracted through exaggeration or simplification Might also use close-ups, silhouettes, mirrors, distortions, etc. Emphasis on form and colour.
Other Art Movements happening at the time: The Abstract Expressionists. 1940’s and 1950’s. New York City – The New York School Heavily influences by the spontaneity of Surrealism First authentically American avant-garde movement (new and experimental ideas and methods in art, music, or literature) Struggle between self-expression and chaos of the subconscious Believed art is non-representational and improvisational
The Beginnings of Abstract Photography Paul Strand and Abstract Photography One of the earliest experimenters in abstract photography. Heavily focused on form and unique perspective. Not always showing entire subject. “The decision as to when to photograph, the actual click of the shutter, is partly controlled from the outside by the flow of life, but it also comes from the mind and the heart of the artist. The photograph is the vision of the world and expresses, however subtly, his values and convictions.” “Your photography is a record of your living, for anyone who really sees.” -- Paul Strand
Alvin Coburn 1882 – 1966, American-born British Photographer Firstly a Pictorialist Photographer who belonged to: The New School of American Pictorial Photography Photo-Secession Linked Ring – (European version of the Photo-Secession) In 1917 – he began to produce subjective photographs - called vortographs which associated his work with Vorticists – a group of English writers and painters who had been influenced by Cubism and Futurism. Vortographs were a deliberate attempt to prove that photographers could fracture space into abstract compositions as Cubist painters and sculptures had done.
Vortographs: kaleidoscope images made by photographing through triangular arrangements of three mirrors.
Vorticism 1914 • Offshoot of Cubism and Futurism based in London • Rejected landscapes and nudes for geometric form leading to abstraction • Published Blast magazine, which featured Vorticists and writers such as Ezra Pound and T.S.Eliot • Featured painters, sculptures, printmakers, drawing and writing.
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Abstract Photography Beginning in 1930’s, Moholy-Nagy began an abstract approach to photography, condensed to its fundamentals – line, shape, texture and color.
“The organization of light and shadow effects produce a new enrichment of vision.” “The enemy of photography is the convention, the fixed rules of ‘how to do’. The salvation of photograph comes from the experiment.” -- Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Otto Steinert and the Fotoform Fotoform 1949 – 1958 Avant-garde West German Photographers Experimental Photography focusing on creative possibilities. Work was in response to suppression of art by Nazi party. Inspired by the Bauhaus aesthetic and theories.
Otto Steinert 1915 – 1978 German – Founder of Fotoform – Movement of Post-War German Photographers Fotoform: Nazi party forced art underground. Fotoform represented the first attempt to bring art back to the surface after the Nazi regime collapsed. Included Photographers: Peter Keetman, Siegfried Lauterwasser, Wolfgang Reisewitz, Toni Schneiders, and Ludwig Windstosser Continued Bauhaus’ photographic exploration – (the most advanced school of design in Germany between WWI – WWII) focusing on abstract form.
Studied medicine originally, but became a photographer in 1947 first working in portraiture. Founder and intellectual mentor of Fotoform, started in 1949 His work focused on abstraction, close-up views of patterns from nature or from manipulating negatives and prints.
“Photograph gives us for the first time a feeling of the structure of things with an intensity which the eye, limited by its accommodation, had hitherto been quite unable to perceive.” “As the most widely-spread vehicle of expression up to the present day, photography is called upon to mould the visual consciousness of our age. And as the pictorial technique most generally comprehensible and most easily accessible to lay hands on, it is particularly fitted to promote the mutual understanding of the nations.” -- Otto Steinert
Abstract photography began in 1917 but continues even today. 1940 - 1960 Harry Callahan also worked heavily in abstract photography
“I wish more people felt that photography was an adventure the same as life itself and felt that their individual feels were worth expressing. To me, that makes photography more exciting.” “I do believe strongly in photography and hope by following it intuitively that when the photographs are looked at they will touch the spirit in people.” -- Harry Callahan
Aaron Siskind 1903 – 1991 American Arguably the most famous abstract photographer Travelled with abstract expressionists Wanted to mimic abstract paintings Peeling paint, posters, graffiti, texture on walls, tar on asphalt Leaves the viewer open to interpret the images themselves, without the photographer forcing meaning on the viewer
Images feature subjects not easily identifiable. Not purely an abstract photographer – he worked in many photographic genres through his career. He worked to communicate ideas, feelings, and perspectives on life and history. His abstract phase was between 1940 - 1986
“When I make a photograph, I want it to be an altogether new object, complete and self-contained, whose basic condition is order.” “The only nature I’m interested in is my own nature.” -- Aaron Siskind
Minor White Spiritualist, Buddist 1908 – 1976 American His photographic work extended photography’s range of expression and greatly influenced creative photography in mid-20th century. Worked with Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, and Edward Steichen. Editor of both Image and Aperture Magazines.
Spiritualism Simplicity Peace
“Be still with yourself until the object of your attention affirms your presence.” “Vision without association – pristine vision.” “No matter how slow the film, Spirit always stands long enough for the photographer it has chosen.” -- Minor White