A couple of years ago, I found a transcript in the Kindle store of a series of interviews conducted with Ansel Adams between 1972 and 1975. It took me a while to get through the entire book because the text-to-Kindle translation method resulted in a very poorly formatted book, making it very difficult to read (knowing speaker on any given page and following the flow of the conversation). But the price was right (FREE) and I eventually made it through the entire thing. Having seen a couple of TV productions featuring Adams, I could almost hear his voice in the transcribed words. As you would expect, there were lots of reminiscences of people, photographic events, equipment, films and techniques. The one topic, though, that stood out for me was his discussion of photographic abstractions.
From his point of view, photography is a “extracting” art form, not an abstracting one. By this he meant that, unlike the painter who starts with an blank canvas and adds to it purely as his vision dictates, the photographer must extract from the existing, physical scene in front of the camera’s lens to get to his subject. Just because the subject of a photograph isn’t immediately recognizable to the viewer because certain surrounding context has been minimized or eliminated in the composition, doesn’t make the photograph and abstract in his mind. So, with that in mind, is today’s photograph an abstract or an extract?
Today’s photograph is part of a series I have been working on in my home called Interiors. It was taken on the stairs just below the third floor landing where several wall surfaces come together. The relationships from these intersections are further defined by the light coming from varying directions throughout the day. Until reading Adams’ words, I would have called this image an abstraction. Now I am not so sure. I am comfortable with the term “extraction” because I have made what I think is a pleasing composition that can stand on its own without you, the viewer, having to know more beyond what is seen.
Thanks for stopping by.
P.S. For those who might be interested, the book I referred to is: Conversations with Ansel Adams, from the Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, California.