Photography Abstracted

“Photography Abstracted.” BKN Magazine 3 (2016): 47-52.

It is my conviction that photography is inherently a form of abstraction. Through the use of a camera, the three dimensional world is reduced to a two dimensional, framed representation of the world. Despite the fact that photography is a type of abstraction, we usually assume that the photographic image has an indexical relationship to the world, that is, the image is connected to the world through a transfer of light. In other words, the photographic image is a representation of the world viewed. Hence, photography is often considered a representational art form. By claiming a photograph is “abstract,” it can generally be assumed that one is implying that the indexical status of photography has been compromised, that is, that the viewer cannot easily deduce the photographs relationship to the corporeal world. 

Through abstraction, the photographic image is freed from mere representation, giving the image over to the viewer’s imagination, inviting the viewer to interpret the image for themselves. Although the English idiom states “a photograph is worth a thousand words,” many theorists and art critics suggest that a photograph contains something inherently beyond language, an idea that implicitly re-enforces the abstract nature of photography. It can also be argued that there always exists an internal tension between representation and abstraction in the photographic image. With photography it is actually easier to create an abstract image than a realistic representation of the world which only occurs with “correct” focal length, shutter speed, aperture setting, etc. Despite the difficulty of producing a realistic representation of the world (a task made significantly easier in the digital age), it is this form of photography that dominates the cultural landscape. 

The abstract photographic images in this series are created by disrupting traditional photographic processes or by exploring/exploiting what is normally considered an imperfection or error. It is the myth of the perfect image that advertisers exploit to sell consumers goods…here is the perfect life and it can be yours for a price. It is the myth of the perfect image that drives planned obsolescence…from SD to HD to UHD, the new is already obsolete. Many consumers do not even desire the object itself; they desire the perfect lifestyle associated with the advertised image. My work rejects the myth of the perfect image by celebrating imperfection as a challenge to cultural hegemony. 

The images selected demonstrate several different strategies used to intentionally abstract the photographic image. Some of the techniques are the result of intense experimentation, some are the results of chance operations, and others are simply the result of technical incompetence (although some artists prefer the term “happy accident”). Moreover, the abstraction occurs at various stages of the photographic process. For instance, one of the techniques involves manipulating the undeveloped negative by exposing it to light, a process that introduces an element of chance even before the photo is developed. Another technique involves damaging the photographic print by burying it in plastic, allowing parts of the image to decompose while still maintaining aspects of the original photographic image, introducing a painterly quality. Through the use of a scanner, I have documented unstable, decaying 35mm nitrate motion film in an attempt to produce both an aesthetic document and an archival image. Through direct manipulation of the digital file, organic decay transforms into digital decay.

The strategies employed to produce these images all rely on maintaining faith in the artistic process, and on embracing imperfection and error. The work is made in the spirit of DIY experimentation, an ethos that is evermore vital given the cultural dominance of iPhone photography. Of course, I am not claiming that iPhoneography is inherently bad; however, working with methodologies outside of the dominant modes of production allows opportunities for discovery not sanctioned by Apple – it allows for alternatives to the ubiquitous. Adopting a DIY methodology means choosing freedom over convenience.