Conceptual Art

Generally, conceptual art as it relates to photography, is abstract in nature. The fact that the concept is what takes precedence, means the literal aspects of the photo, can be abandoned for a more abstract vision. I would however, not say that all abstract photography is conceptual. A blur of color or texture with zero concept of what it is, may be beautiful and certainly is abstract, but there is often no genuine concept behind it. If that blur of color or bit of texture, was always meant to say something from the photographer, it  may be conceptual. If it seems that at times I am using the term “conceptual art” rather broadly……you would be right. Today’s post is equally about conceptual and abstract photography. I sort of celebrate where they go together.  My goal when I tackle subjects like this, is not to give examples of the subject that meet university criteria, but rather examples that meet the popular definition currently being used.

The four images below are wonderful conceptual abstractions.

This Michael Frye. image of autumn leaves on a tree or shrub is a very intentional sort of image, of a well-known or mature subject. Despite all of that, this is a true abstract. Visually removing one section of a scene, or abstracting it from the larger scene, makes it a personal statement. His concept of what he really saw. It is difficult to know the size of this section of fall leaves. I love a little mystery in pictures.

Aspen-leaf kaleidoscope, Rock Creek Canyon, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Kerry Drager made this image of reflections of a dockside building. In my opinion this picture is beyond terrific. I especially like the way those ripples are defined and crisp instead of soft they way you might expect them to be. That tip of the camera to run the reflections at a diagonal across the picture frame, and the fact that he does not include the actual buildings in the frame, make this one of my favorite abstracts that I have viewed this year.


Legendary nature/travel photographer Brenda Tharp proves that sand dunes make great images. The block of sand running in the middle and the deep shadows around it, help make this image an abstract. That little tree in the lower right hand corner keeps us grounded in reality.


This very conceptual and quite abstract scene of an Apostle Islands (Lake Superior) sea cave, was made by Ian Plant and is my favorite picture among those that I am showing today. It is straight in its approach, yet almost surreal. Kudos to Ian for making this image in the vertical format.


While the technology in my aging abstracts below, may lack in comparison to what you have seen up above, they are not weak in their concept.

You are looking at snow at sunrise. Snow with fissures to be exact. The question is, does the snow measure a mile across? Maybe made from the top of a mountain. Is it ten feet across and made from a small hill? Maybe it’s eight inches and shot with a macro lens. Understanding perspective can be difficult when there are no clues except the actual subject. The size was at the center of my concept


This subject is clearly a sandstone land arch. Arches measure anywhere from four feet to two hundred feet. Once again the concept is about the mystery. An obvious subject but void of clues.


This mound of fog, is in reality hot steam rising from the ground in a thermal area of Yellowstone N.P. Once again my entire concept was to leave out any clues of scale, and let the viewer make the decision of what it is, and how big it is.


At first look, it is difficult to know just what the subject of this picture is. That is the only thing that makes this image abstract. In other words, the abstract part of the image comes from my unique point of view. It is also why the picture is conceptual. I am once again in Yellowstone N.P. I am in fact peering over a cliff looking down on three large rock forms. There is a small dirt road at the bottom and that road forks right between the rock forms.


Straight forward landscapes can be great but every once in a while the photographer will see abstract possibilities. Those moments make it possible to put a personal signature on an otherwise ordinary picture.

There is no doubt as to my subject in this next shot, and there is little doubt that this is a macro image. I loved the way the autumn leaves overlapped. That overlap is the reason I made the image. A subject does not need to be a mystery to be an abstract, or to have developed from a personal concept.

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This image is clearly that of a flower. I left that bit of leaf showing in order to give the viewer’s eye somewhere to go other than the flower itself. This is really not an abstract image but it is an abstract flower. If you are searching to make an abstract, conceptualized photo, it really doesn’t matter whether it is your composition that makes the abstract, or Mother Nature that makes it so.

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Anyone who knows me will know that this image was made at White Sands New Mexico. Once again, dunes are a perfect subject for abstracting the land. Shadows are a very important element of this picture. They not only reveal the patterns in the sand, but they shape the over all scene as well. I had a very definite concept that I was using that morning at White Sands. It was only natural that making images of sand, patterns, shadows and shape, became abstract by its application.

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I spent over an hour making pictures of an autumn stream that weaved in an out of the shadows. There was no way to stretch my depth of field over the whole image so I decided to give the viewer a sharp beginning, and a soft finish. This photo is essentially broken into thirds by color.

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This is a very old film picture. It is a multiple exposure although I cannot tell (or remember) whether it was two or three exposures. In between shutter clicks, I made a shift of camera position each time. I copied this into digital several years ago. Somewhere lurking in my film files, there is an image with 24 exposures on one frame of film made of a bed of cultivated flowers. My multiple exposure photography lasted a few weeks and I moved on. I must say it was fun.

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Remember that this picture was made with an old manual style film camera. I would have taken a meter reading (probably off a gray card), and cut it in half for two exposures, or divided in three for three exposures etc. For all I know some high-end digital cameras have a multiple exposure/exposure system. In other words, you put the camera on, say aperture priority, punch in the number six, and it automatically divides the exposure by six for each of the six exposures you make. If that is not available, well just remember where you heard the idea. I will once again have given away an idea for free. If it already exists, well I am a day late and dollar short, also as usual.

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time” Thomas Merton

Have the best of days,                                                                                                                   Wayne






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