Photography Blog

Abstract Photography Defined

Abstract Photography Defined by Steve at Sciryuda

We don’t commonly see Abstract Photography Defined do we? Not clearly.. 

In the similar way there’s no universally agreed definition for what makes art, well, art!

I want to keep this simple. I’d love to delve into the depths of the topic, but we’d need a camp fire to do that.

So, simply put, in photographic terms; what defines a photographic image as ‘abstract’.

Is abstract photography defined by a concept or content? Perhaps we should start there?

Google – ‘Abstract’

An abstract idea or way of thinking is based on general ideas rather than on real things and events.

So, in this somewhat confused digital photographic era, will looking at abstract as a ‘way of thinking’ be helpful?

For instance, would it help us to perhaps walk along these lines..

Abstract photography is simply an imagined visual idea over anything real? 

This helps me for a two reasons; 1) when I digitally create an image from a 100% photographic source, that’s a photographic abstract, and 2) I can ignore any subject when shooting.. & that’s creatively liberating!

Here’s another general ‘abstract’ definition…

Collins – ‘Abstract’

1. (exactly as Google above).

2. Abstract art makes use of shapes and patterns rather than showing people or things.

OK I’m not getting into discussion about photography as an art form, digital graphics or purist theory here, oh no!

Single minded focus.. can we define abstract photography clearly?

The common dilemma is this. Let’s take the sample images below. How do you define them? Graphics, graphic art, photo art maybe, just art or abstract photography? What would you classify them as? 

Here’s where I believe the above definition can help us all.

These images were produced from single shot photographic stock. At the time of shooting, they were an imagined visual idea over their real nature.. by my above definition, pure abstracts!

What do you think? Where do you draw your defining lines? I’d love to know..

See John William Draper as early as 1842, he produced light ray images.. abstract by any definition.

Manipulated by his early processing methods to elicit his imagined visual idea‘ and who are we to argue? Right?

So, what’s the root cause for today’s obscured & often strained understanding of abstract?

Personally, I believe the digital era is largely the cause. The modern processing tools at our disposal are so powerful they enable us to stretch our visual ideas much further than John Draper ever could. 

Does this mean therefore, that modern digital tools & creative perspectives should be throttled or confined.

Or, can we accept that.. 

Abstract photography is simply an imagined visual idea over anything real? 

For anyone who’s climbed onto the fence undecided, what the above definition also provides is a range of creative, flexible and interesting sub-genres. Can you imagine what a “Single frame abstract” might be? How about a “Multi-frame abstract”, “Photographic collage abstract” or “Split frame abstract” (as I would call the examples above)?

What they share is their ‘imagined visual idea over anything real’ and I believe, it is fair to call them all…

 – Abstracts –

For discussion & debate, allow me to offer these parameters too.. 

There is no such thing as an accidental abstract.

All photographic abstracts come strictly from the original photographic source.

Abstract photography has grey space, some images will challenge clear definition.

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