The de-materialization of artwork
It is necessary to point out first of all, that this article is not about landscape or portrait photography at all. Their main subject does not provide much room for interpretation because it is designed to appeal to aesthetical senses. It also is not about spontaneous snapshots – in which the photographer has to give up much of his or her control about what appears in their viewfinder. And, it’s also not about photography that is created just for the purpose of decoration and therefore usually does not have such a conceptual depth as the work which this article explores. It’s about photographs which are provoking a certain thought process and are alive in the mind of the viewer. It explores photographs in which abstraction and optical illusions are used as a stylistic device and which are challenging the viewer to play “Mind Games”.
Achieving such an impact requires that the artist is driven by something which goes beyond depicting a subject. At the very beginning of the creative process the artists needs a concept or rather an (abstract) idea, which has to be treated as equivalent to the future result. There’s more behind such a photograph than choosing a subject or arranging the equipment for the “perfect capture” – the theoretical and the actual way of processing are equally important. Classical “photography rules” are often playing a tangential role or are rather being ignored and technical aspects like camera settings or post-processing are as well considered as less important than in other disciplines of photography – what would be considered as “low quality” there is often used intentionally here.
The involvement with the theoretical components of a photograph and its possible ways of perception by the viewer also matters more than technical details because the artist usually wants to cause a response which goes further than “I like” or “I dislike”. That is why familiar points of view, conceptions and connections have to be liberated of their ordinary context and to be put on a meta-level, which makes it possible to discover brand new significations and connotations. The artwork itself has to be similarly “de-materialized” to find its complete expression not just on the level of visual perception anymore, but to be further developed in the thoughts of the viewer.
The main concern is the visualization of an (abstract) idea.
Who wouldn’t agree that ideas often exist undetermined or rather vague and “blurry” in our mind? So it’s just consistent to visualize such an idea through an intentionally blurry or underexposed photograph, or to move the camera during a long-time exposure with the intention of capturing an abstract impression instead of another “frozen moment”. Taking photos of seemingly unperfected reflections (e. g. on water surfaces, window panes or mirrors) is as well suitable for uncovering this intangible theoretical world of thoughts. Other artists are creating fascinating new sights by depicting deteriorated or weathered everyday items like road markings, peeled off paint or rusty pieces of metal.
The artist is able to steer the direction of the viewer’s “mind games” by reducing the picture to its key elements or by choosing an unusual close-up view on a detail of an everyday item, if desired. Choosing an appropriate title also plays a crucial role in this context. All of this together will make an artwork a visual and a mental stimulus for the viewer, an invitation for getting involved and starting a conversation. The approach of the photo itself is still being illustrative, but obviously shape- and pattern-oriented – the photographer conveys a creative view on things which are otherwise overlooked or recognized as “trivial”. This creates a notionally reality in the mind of the viewer, detached from the context of the pictured subject. The viewer is hereby accompanying the artist on a search for visual traces and will discover a brand new world of details, angles and points of view.
This kind of photography surely challenges the viewers skills of perception and interpretation – but once the viewer has found the right approach to it, he or she will probably consider this different view on lots of “trivial” things as a benefit.
Alvin Langdon Coburn
One of the pioneers of abstract photography. His “vortographs” were inspired by cubism and they deliberated photography from its dependency on “visible reality” by using excessive pushing-up of light and shadow.
He’s ranked amongst the most important conceptual artists in Europe. Dibbets is interested in phenomena of perception, misperception and illusion. His photographs are equally figurative and abstract (sic!): they look like cut-outs of an abstract painting while they represent industrial goods, their colors and their light reflections at the same time.
She prefers to depict traces of human activities on roads and places. Dietewich reduces her work to a level which takes it to a different level of abstraction – the conceptual connotations contained in her work are an “aesthetic of the imperfect world” or the connection between the disappearance of the depicted traces and the fleetingness of human existence.
The master. Period. On a side note: he’s still using photographic plates to create his incredible series of black and white long-exposures.
He’s well known for extremely long exposures, capturing the withering of flowers or the edification of a building.
This article was originally written for and published in POINT OF SIMPLICITY ISSUE #7.MINDGAMES
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