Architecture and landscapes are great for traveling photographers because, as travelers, we are mesmerized by the places that locals often forget to admire. To take your architecture and landscape photography to the next level, you can use a creative and artistic technique known as abstraction.
Abstractions are conceptual portions or processes that speak about a larger, specific object or topic. They are present in many fields and disciplines and, of course, creative expressions have adopted them as the main road for crafting concepts. This creative method of abstractions was born in painting.
The Museum of Modern Art defines “abstract” as “a term generally used to describe art that is not representational or based on external reality or nature.”
Abstract themes have been generously diverse, but when it comes to photography, the most well-known abstract photographers focus their visions on landscapes and architecture.
Difference Between Abstract and Surreal
Although abstract and surreal are two different worlds and styles, many people still tend to confuse them. Abstract is more aligned with the deconstruction or the personal perspective of a concept; whereas, surrealism typically depicts the irrational, unconscious mind beyond the constraints of the rational world.
I have personally defined surrealism as the visual representation of the vastly unseen, obvious nature of elements aided by the juxtaposition of other elements. For me, the best way to illustrate surrealism is using this image which, as you can see, has nothing to do with abstract concepts since they are obvious and sincere.
Without further ado, let’s talk about some important photographers who use abstraction as their primary voice.
Ola Kolehmainen is a Finnish photographer whose exceptional work could easily fit into the abstract genre as we previously defined. He uses architecture as both a starting point and as his main source of inspiration. Instead of portraying architecture in a direct form, he reveals it as an examination of space, light and color, all of which reflect and question our typical, human way of looking at things.
It is intriguing to follow how Ola’s representation of buildings evolved from a direct approach into an artistic vision thanks to his closer examination of structures. Because of his unique perspective, Ola developed a more abstract and independent language that allowed him to distance himself from architecture as it is.
Andrew S. Gray
From intricate and nearly impossible points of view to elegant camera shakes, abstract can be done in a variety of ways from simple to complex, all of which produce elegant results. Inspired by the paintings of the old English masters of pictorialism, Andrew S. Gray creates beautiful abstract landscapes with a unique style using intentional camera movement as well as well-planned color palettes.
He personally prints his work, which speaks volumes about his workflow mastery. In fact, Gray is so generous that he even helps people around the globe with one-on-one sessions and video tutorials in addition to offering online help for anyone trying to create landscapes (or other imagery) with a similar style of abstraction.
Harry Callahan was an American photographer who experimented in many fields from abstractions to nudes and even botanical studies. He taught photography at the Chicago Institute of Design in 1946 and, in 1949, took over as head of the college’s Department of Photography.
In abstract terms, he created simple landscapes from regular points of view, all while including human elements. He also did what I personally call “micro landscape photography” with his weed studies. In these, he depicted small weed bushes growing in the snow as isolated forests, which is something similar to the real forests captured by Michael Kenna.
Angie McMonigal’s architectural photography is truly a visual indulgence as she gives a warm and organic nature to the inanimate buildings she meets while wandering the streets.
I personally think that McMonigal is challenged by every building she deems worthy of her vision because you can see a diverse array of styles in her abstractions. Every building is different from the other, yet her style is still tangible in each of them. Whether she goes for color or monochrome, a reduced portion of a building or the entire structure, she manages to capture a rare and unseen beauty that will make you stop and stare.
Jackie Ranken learned her craft by working as a darkroom technician, a freelance and sports photographer, a wedding photographer, a commercial photographer, and a photojournalist. Thanks to this vast mixture of photography disciplines and styles, she has become a prolific photographer who has stayed exceptionally busy with several photography projects in the world of the arts.
Focusing on two of my favorite projects, the first is called “Aerial Abstracts.” In this project, Ranken has taken aerial landscapes of Australia with a single piece of gear—a medium format camera generously loaded with plenty of 120 black and white film. The other project is a beautiful narrative crafted with conceptual and abstract works done only in Antarctica. Here, she used handpicked portions of the arctic landscape.
Truly a great and remarkable piece of eye candy that hints at the abstract and lands on surrealism is Ranken’s “Other Realities” project, which has notorious elements of landscape photography.
Frances Seward has a peculiar way of creating her unique landscapes and seascapes. With great passion, she has photographed the inner and amorphous world of solid glass by maneuvering it so that it performs like landscapes.
Thanks to the odd behavior of glass with its random nature of liquid and the static qualities of any other solid, Seward creates a myriad of textures just like any painter; however, instead of a paintbrush and palette, she uses her camera to capture the wonder of glass and natural light.
Architecture is a huge part of the beauty inside cityscapes and urbanscapes, which Matthieu Venot knows firsthand thanks to his minimalist and abstract approach in showcasing the ordinary architecture of large urban bodies.
Venot’s work is absolutely breathtaking with remarkable color palettes and abstract compositions loaded with polygonal nature. To get a better feel for his work and talent, take a look at The Abstract Architecture Photography of Matthieu Venot.
The great thing about Venot’s work is that it is universal and could be done in almost any city. While we tend to see greener grass on the other side of the fence, Venot proves that this prejudice can easily be broken thanks to his ability to capture beauty in any city he visits.
Patterns are a recurrent theme in photography and Alexander Jacques knows that firsthand. A master of patterns himself, he is also a master of abstract architecture photography with his ongoing exploration centering in the façade patterns of many buildings around the globe.
He states that his method of showing isolated patterns on buildings is not to offer just a mere abstraction, but to present a new perspective on seeing architecture especially for those accustomed to seeing the same buildings on a regular, almost daily basis.
A truly complex artist, Maija Savolainen is a recognized photographer from the Helsinki School. For this specific topic, we will focus on her project called paperworks in which she created abstract and minimalist representations of landscapes using a colorful palette. Much like watching a pastel ode to Hiroshi Sugimoto, Savolainen demonstrates through her work that the simplest resources can lead to the most beautiful simplifications and abstractions.
Going for the abstract is not for everyone; however, pushing yourselves forward to see one particular venue or construction in different ways do wonders to boost your vision into unthinkable levels of creativity.
Remember to plan the expected results with a certain degree of flexibility in order to create solid and consistent abstractions, instead of simply taking random shots of a particular thing.
Many photographers have crafted consistent styles of abstractions, while others have done several studies and experiments to produce pleasant results. And, due to their mature careers, they know the value of only publishing their masterpieces, rather than all the randomness they created behind the lens.
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