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Abstract Photography Collage

Abstract Photography

Started: 1916

Abstract Photography Timeline

Quotes

"It is not the person ignorant of writing but the one ignorant of photography who will be the illiterate of the future."
László Moholy-Nagy
"Space, time, material - are they one with light?"
László Moholy-Nagy
"Why should not the camera throw off the shackles of conventional representation?"
Alvin Langdon Coburn
"Why, I ask you earnestly, need we go on making commonplace little exposures that may be sorted into groups of landscapes, portraits and figure studies?...I do not think we have begun even to realize the possibilities of the camera."
Alvin Langdon Coburn
"Abstract photography challenges our popular view of photography as an objective image of reality by reasserting its constructed nature.... Freed from its duty to represent, abstract photography continues to be a catchall genre for the blending of mediums and disciplines. It is an arena to test photography."
Barbara Kasten
"Ever since I started printing in 1990, I've been collecting things that went wrong in the darkroom."
Wolfgang Tillmans
"And that's the interesting role that the abstract pictures play: they activate shapes in the other pictures."
Wolfgang Tillmans
"So in a way I started being interested in photography through deconstructing or destroying photography."
Wolfgang Tillmans
"I was never engaged with making the perfect print. I'm much more interested in photography as a place where picture-making or a discourse on images intersects with reality and also in the glitches and the noise that the different kinds of technologies produce."
Walead Beshty
"When you make photograms, without the use of a camera, you can indeed call that abstract photography, as the lens and the corresponding registration medium are lacking. No longer do you have pictures of reality or objects; you only have their shadows. It is a bit like Plato's cave, where one could only imagine reality; the objects themselves were not visible."
Thomas Ruff

KEY ARTISTS

Paul StrandPaul Strand
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Man RayMan Ray
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Alfred StieglitzAlfred Stieglitz
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László Moholy-NagyLászló Moholy-Nagy
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Aaron SiskindAaron Siskind
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Hiroshi SugimotoHiroshi Sugimoto
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"The most astonishing possibilities remain to be discovered in the raw material of photograph"

László Moholy-Nagy Signature

Synopsis

Abstract photography is a term with ambiguous connotations, associated but not limited to the achievements of groups such as the Photo-Secession, Straight Photography, and New Vision movements. Since the late nineteenth century, photographers have been determined to present match the formal and conceptual advances of other genres within modern art. The result is an extraordinary and varied body of work in which the compositional traits and subject-matter of traditional photography recede from view. Here are abstract photograms made without cameras by exposing found objects and treated photosensitive paper to natural light; surreal close-up and long-distance images, in which the details of natural or architectural patterning become abstract compositional motifs; and conceptual and installation-based works in which photography is incorporated into sophisticated mixed-media practices.

Key Ideas

One of the key advances of abstract photography has been the realization that cameras are not required to make photographs. In the early twentieth century, artists such as Christian Schad, Man Ray, and László Moholy-Nagy began to create bricolage-style works by placing found objects directly onto photosensitive paper, generating graphically-arresting images in which the everyday detritus of modern life is rendered luminous and strange.
Since the early advances of Schad, Man Ray et al, abstract artists have continually returned to the "photogram" - the camareless photograph - as a medium allowing for uniquely self-reflexive and creative interventions into the photographic form. Rather than capturing an image by the passage of light through shutters onto photosensitive paper, the paper itself is directly manipulated and treated - often brought into contact with other objects - allowing for a potentially endless array of effects.
As a general rule, abstract photography has tended to avert its gaze from extraordinary and arresting subject-matter. Instead, it focuses on the irregular forms and impressions which can be generated by representing familiar objects in new ways: from Alvin Langdon Coburn's Vortographs, made using a camera lens adapted with fragments of broken mirror, to contemporary works by Walead Beshty, Liz Deschenes and others.
It is impossible to evoke the spirit of abstract photography without mentioning the specific development of aerial photography, a method which now has a much wider currency across commercial and popular art. In the 1940s, however, when William A. Garnett began to photograph tract housing and machine-harvested fields from the wing of his domestic aircraft, the idea of photographing the earth from above was new and strange, in many cases producing surreal images which seemed totally disconnected from the subject-matter they represented.

Abstract Photography Image

Definition of Abstract Photography

Abstract photography is an ambiguous term, without a commonly accepted definition. Like abstract art, it has also been called non-objective or concrete, and like abstract art it occupies a sliding scale from broadly representational work with abstract elements to wholly non-representational images. It can also involve a wide variety of photographic materials, processes and equipment, and is not always created with the use of a camera. In many cases, it may instead involve the manipulation of photosensitive materials such as paper and cloth.

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Abstract Photography Overview Continues

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Greg Thomas

" Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Greg Thomas
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