Abstract Photography

History of Abstract Photography

Abstract photography emerged during a shift from figurative subjects in other fields of art in the early 1900s. Modernist artistic movements sought to create optical art that did not refer to objects in the real world, and this desire carried over into photography. Photographers rendered figurative objects unrecognizable by taking a new approach to the medium, cropping and manipulating their compositions. Early abstract photographers banded together into collectives, like the Subjektive Fotografie and the Photo-Secession, to explore the purely visual aspect of medium. These groups experimented with close-ups, cropping, negative printing, and different exposure settings. Later movements, most notably Surrealism, also embraced the medium’s capabilities, further developing unrealistic images through solarization and layering methods. These abstract photographers aimed to establish photography as a field requiring artistic skill and challenged the strictly informative quality of the photograph. Today, photographers are still interested in creating abstract compositions, this time aided by refined camera technology and software programs.

Abstract Photography Techniques

The Subjektive Fotografie collective, founded by Otto Steinert in the 1950s, created abstract art photography using techniques like close-ups, solarization, and negative printing. They also experimented with different time exposure settings and played with perspective. The Surrealist photographers were also known for using similar manipulation tactics in their abstract body photography. Double exposure, solarization, combination printing, montage, rotations, and other forms of distortions were employed by the Surrealists to render their photographs of female nudes uncanny and dreamlike. Contemporary abstract photographers are able to experiment with different lenses and focus settings as well as use macro technology to zoom in closely on even the tiniest of subjects. Photographers also usually play with light, shadow, texture, and the lines and curves of their subjects to create dense, abstract compositions.

Artists Known For Abstract Photography

Paul Strand is credited with creating some of the first significant abstract photographs. Strand played with light and shadow and incorporated hard lines and geometry in his images. His “Abstraction, Twin Lakes, Connecticut” (1916) literally depicts tables, but Strand focused on the play of shadows falling across them. Strand’s mentor Alfred Stieglitz is also known for his modern abstract compositions like his “Equivalents” series (1926), in which he took snapshots of passing clouds. Stieglitz is also known for his semi-abstract portrait photography of his wife, Georgia O’Keeffe. Surrealist Man Ray is recognized for his manipulated abstract compositions like “Untitled” (1924), in which Ray played with mirrors to create doubles of his subjects. Edward Weston zoomed in on objects of nature, creating abstract landscapes of vegetation. Other artists known for their abstract photography include Aaron Siskind, Hans Bellmer, Maurice Tabard, Andre Kertesz, and Charles Sheeler.