Black and White Abstract Photography

The origin of abstract photography or abstract art, which is one of the prime creations of modernist art, is from painting. Ever since its infant stage, artists especially from Europe and the United States have consistently practiced abstractions in other media. Some of the fields where abstract works can be found are graphic art, sculpture and photography.

An artists’ group called Abstraction- Creation was founded in 1931 in Paris. This group is responsible for establishing two methods in creating “the abstract picture”. One method was to reduce the nature to elementary forms (also simply known as Abstraction), and the other method was the composition of elementary form and color constellations without any reference to nature (also known as Creation).

Because abstract art is dependent on real objects, photography often appears to be limited to the first method of abstraction.

Due to this limitation in practicing black and white abstract art in photography, it is quite a challenge indeed to work on this respect of photography, and artists who come to this area today are therefore now building on a solid tradition of about 85 years’ duration.

Many methods are used along with simple photography in order to excel and advance in this field such as sculpture, paintings and other art forms or even special editing and transformation softwares in order to make the work appear more abstract than it normally appears through the camera lens.

In the second half of the 20th century, new theoretical approaches and technological developments pushed the methods of monochromatic abstract image making to a new level. In the 1950s, Otto Steinert led the fotoform group in exploring the talents and techniques for abstract imagery under the label Subjective Photography. Steinert captured and intrigued a whole generation with his idea of obtaining from an object the image of its essential being. In order to do so, he held exhibitions, released publications and held classes for teaching his ideas and concepts of his innovation.

This revolution in art and photography led to the concept of Generative Photography, which was developed by the photographer and art historian Gottfried Jager. This also includes the luminograms of Kilian Breier, for which light rays are directed on to light- sensitive paper, and Pierre Cordier’s chemigrams, a process in which substances are made to affect the texture of the photographic emulsion, reducing the role played by light to that of catalyst. Digital technology has helped in bringing even new possibilities of abstraction, while other inventions such as magnetic resonance imaging  and the scanning electron microscope have helped in making an invisible world visible.

As this is a case of involving unorthodox methods to photography, it is often a subject of debate of whether the work is simply a work of photography or not due to the fact that other techniques or art forms are involved in it apart from simply photography. A lot of people even find the work “hanging somewhere between art and photography”.

Due to this and many other respects, an abstract artist who uses a camera for his work may not necessarily prefer to be known as a photographer. The argument of labeling this form of photography as a pure form of photography or a mix of other art forms along with it is never ending, and many experts also believe that this is probably the reason why other forms of abstract art have been more critically and even commercially acclaimed if compared with abstract photography.

Even though abstract photography has been a subject of criticism for many, there has been one period when the public started being more receptive to abstract photography. Especially towards the end of the 1980s,  when the American art market also saw a revival of abstract painting which established the careers of artists such as Ross Bleckner, Peter Halley and Philipp Taaffe.

In the present time there were many exhibitions of abstract photography in New York galleries. In the near-past, there were two famous museum exhibitions in German-speaking countries. One was called Presence in Absence which was curated by Walter Binder and the other, called The Disappearance of Things from Photography, and was curated by Monika Faber.

Tanvi Gupta

Creator. Dreamer. Thinker. Always full of ideas. Serious at work and distracted at parties. A designer, with a passion for writing.

Images by: Tanvi Gupta