More abstraction in reality


My neighbour and much respected and artist found my last post about the photos of the infrastructures of the Turcot rail yards in Montreal too pedantic. I suggested it was because she already knows all that, having been an art afficianado for the last 30 years. Schools of thought in the art world have been steady fare for our discussions. We taught in the same institution and developed a common language for our discussions. We sought ways to make concepts clear to beginners on the voyage of discovery.

In teaching, I stressed to the participants that I really didn’t care if they became excellent technicians in the business of art. What I really cared about and promised to do for them was to teach them to see. That, for me, is the crux of the whole business.

Amongst the instructors, we occasionally had discussions about our intent, in teaching. With the number of students being pumped out of the school each year, there was no way that all of them were going to be Picasso-successful. There would be a good gamut of those who went on to fame and fortune and those who could earn their living in various kinds of art-related jobs – teachers, graphic designers, commercial artists, book illustrators, pottery producers, theater set designers, animators, sculptors, industrial designers, line drawers for newspaper ads, greeting card designers, fashion designers, medical illustrators, et cetera. There would also be a large percentage that did not continue on in art careers. What value were we bringing those who did not manage to become “professional” artists, that is, those who earned their living from the craft, their trade and their art?

We concluded that even if we did not create a colony of army-ant artists to change the world, we at least were laying ground work for the appreciation of the arts. We concluded that the teaching of creative thought was important in any discipline and knowledge transfer could occur going into other disciplines.

So, circling back to the beginning of this discussion, I may have readers that have thought through some of these things, but many who have not. Though I no longer am teaching in a classroom context, I see myself as an art missionary and I find myself compelled to explain. I want people to understand what it is that I’m trying to accomplish. I make no assumptions that readers already know; and I hope that those who do will glaze over on the parts that they find basic but will have the endurance and interest to read on to my posting’s conclusion.

So without more preamble, here are more photos of some things that I find interesting that are real but that become almost non-representational by means of the selection of what to show in the composition.

The photo at the top of the post only takes a few seconds to decipher. It’s a building with a green metal balcony. I liked the way the various lines – railing, siding, soffit and the reflection of the siding in the car window – all go in different directions. The siding in the car window is disorienting and gives a sense of irreality to the image.


Now I’ve cropped the image and the sensation of disorientation is increased. The picture looks more abstract, where the essentials have been retained and the non-essentials have been eliminated.

Here’s another one:

I’ve shown you the cropped version first. Of course, I could have cropped this while taking the photo. But sometimes the camera won’t bring the image close enough to get what I want, and sometimes, I prefer cropping with the computer because I can play with different outer limits to the image before deciding what’s best.

Here’s where the image comes from:ay-098-small.jpg

It’s the tail light that gives away the context. Otherwise, if you remove a greater part of the contextual reference, something quite real takes on a more illusory aspect which I find more interesting. I don’t like to be told everything in a image. I like to have to figure things out and engage with the image.


And so, I leave you hanging. What is this last one about, anyway? I just like it.

Which brings me to a final word. Whenever we are working with an object in context or a bit of scenery, there are no boundaries – unless you’ve framed it or used a view finder. But that’s you doing the framing – the object or the scene itself has no boundaries. Taken to the extreme, the object is sitting in a context that goes all the way around the world, including oceans. It can be that vast.

What you chose to include in an image and where you decide to stop it is your responsibility. You can have an object smack dab in the middle of the picture surrounded by what it is sitting in or contingent to in the case of scenery(it’s context),  or you can crop the image so tightly on the object, not leaving any context at all, and then there are all the possibilities in between.

4 Responses to “More abstraction in reality”

  1. Borut Peterlin Says:

    I agree that the first photo is very tightly and thoughtfully composed, but I don’t find anything wrong with it. It’s very thoughtfully build chaos and perhaps that’s contradicting, but why not. Who said that chaos is chaotic!


  2. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Borut,
    I like the both first photo and the cropped one as well.
    I was trying to demonstrate that by minimizing or removing the context, the image becomes more abstract.
    I like looking at images where I have enough information to make sense of it, but that I have to work a little, to engage in the image in order to get there.

  3. forestrat Says:

    When I look at the tightly framed images, I can do a sort of free association thing in my head to try and figure out what I’m seeing and I may or may not get it “right”. I can really make it anything I want that makes sense to me.

    After I see the wider shot and then return to the abstract, I can’t see it in the same way any more. Now that I know what it really is, I have to go with it. I lose a bit of freedom. On the other hand now I can make other more concrete associations; like to the headlight on my motorcycle.

    The curved chrome surface of the dome over my cycle headlight reflects the sky really nicely in a sort of “fisheye” lens way. I’ve tried to photograph it a couple of times without much success. The camera alwys gets caught in the circle of the reflection.


  4. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Forest Rat,
    Thanks for your comments. Part of my goal in posting this blog is to get discussion going, so your reply is really appreciated.

    Taking a shot into a reflective surface often leaves you with the camera showing. Sometimes you can minimize that effect by taking the picture from an angle – off to one side or position the camera a fair bit above it or below it at a steep angle.
    I have enjoyed taking pictures of friends where I show up with my camera in their sun glasses, or taking self-portraits where the camera figures in it. It’s a bit more trouble and you might need to take a few pictures before you get the framing right. It gives an extra dimension to the image.

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