I devoted the month of February to experimenting with abstract photography. Guided and inspired by the generous and talented Kim Manley Ort and accompanied by an enthusiastic group of kindred souls on Flickr, I challenged myself to see reality around me in a very different way.
Here are some of my key discoveries:
- Abstract photography is a vehicle to get more in touch with your own instincts, emotions and passions. It removes the literal from your images. You don’t need to know what the subject is to like it. For example, I connect with the image above not because of what it is — dish towels, actually — but because of how it makes me feel: energized, empowered and part of the earth. The green, deep blue and orange are to me the elemental colours of fire, water, sky and earth.
- Abstract photography is just plain fun. It is a doorway to joy. It gives you permission to play, to bend and break the rules, to follow your bliss and not worry about the result. Like a child with finger paints, sometimes you make a big mess — and other times you are unexpectedly delighted by a beautiful and meaningful image. It doesn’t really matter; it’s all good.
- In the future, I think I’ll come back to abstract photography any time I’m in the creative doldrums, when I want to shake myself out of habitual and stale patterns. This secret antidote might just work for you too. Part of what freezes us up when we pick up the camera is a desire to make “good” or “popular” images, and we often judge ourselves against similar types of images made by others. But when we free ourselves to create something that is not at all recognizable, then we are liberated from judging it against criteria that are not our own. And since we’re also not so bound up by needing to achieve the perfect exposure, composition and framing, we are released to take more risks and experience the possibility of creating something new and different. Just that excitement alone can reinvigorate our photography.
- Abstract photography can also help you improve your “regular” photography. How is that? Making abstracts trains you to see more directly what lies at the base of any image — lines, shape, patterns, light, colour. When the image is something you are familiar with, you can become distracted by your ideas and preconceived notions of the thing, and your perceptions are not as pure as they might be. But when you remove the label from what is happening in the frame, you see only how light, line, shape and colour are dancing together. That is all. This heightened awareness can make for fresher and more exciting images, abstract or not.
- I commented in an earlier post that “one of the things I love the most about this form of photography is that it keeps revealing just how varied and mysterious the world really is when looked at through different eyes — there is so much more to see and enjoy than we usually let ourselves. And you don’t have to go far. It is astounding how many surprises you can find even in your own home — in the few feet around you.” (I doubt I would have seen the creative possibilities of light on dish towels before this course!)
Now, you definitely don’t need a course to play around with abstracts. You just need an open mind and a desire to try different things. Going really close up on familiar objects is one technique that can yield interesting abstracts. So are deliberately blurring your images and even adding camera movement (ICM) while you are blurring them. And if you are near water, even puddles, do try out abstract reflections. These were some of my favorite images this month.
But I would highly recommend taking Kim’s online course if abstract photography appeals to you at all. You will find her a wonderful catalyst to creativity. The course was a perfect balance of reading about abstract artists, techniques and ideas and real practice. The feedback from Kim and the other participants is always supportive and encouraging. And I found seeing such a wide diversity of abstract work emerging from the group to be exciting and inspiring. The course has started me — and many others — on a continuing journey that I know will deepen and change and keep me engaged for a long time to come.
Kim Manley Ort offers a wide range of equally exciting online courses as well. Why not sign up for her newsletter so you will be the first to know what she has coming up next?