The Literal Abstract

When you look at the dictionary definition of the word abstract, as an adjective in the singular as it pertains to art, it is incomplete as we use it today.

The abstract photograph, as I know it and see it, and as much of the photographic world views it, has an emotional component to it. It can be intellectual, impersonal and detached, but it can be just as readily emotional, personal and connected. It can be based on real world ideas and concepts that are specific, just as easily as it can be based on theories and general principles. As is always the case with definitions, they change as we begin to apply them to different actions, situations and subjects. What it seems like it is, is eventually what it actually is. Perception is reality. Even deciding what an abstract is, can be an abstract thought.


1. not concrete: not relating to concrete objects but expressing something that can only be appreciated intellectually

2. theoretical: based on general principles or theories rather than on specific instances

abstract arguments

3. arts non-representational: not aiming to depict an object but composed with the focus on internal structure and form

4. music conceptual: describes music that is intended to have no programmatic or emotional content

5. irregularly patterned: decorated with irregular areas of color that do not represent anything concrete

6. impersonal: emotionally detached or distanced from something

Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


I love photographic abstracts and while nature is my game so to speak, I find abstractions of manmade objects almost as gratifying as those from the natural world. While some photographers seem to have a knack for the abstract, and even specialize in it, I believe that any photographer including those that prefer the most obvious and straight forward interpretation of a subject, are just as capable of seeing a subject in abstract form as is the abstract artist. I spent my photographic life capturing literal subjects in a traditional way one moment, and seeing the light or form or even the essence of a subject if I may be a bit esoteric, the next. I think any photographer benefits from seeing subjects in as many forms as possible. Yes, literalists can become an abstractionist even if only for an occasional moment, and the abstract photographer can learn to see their subjects in a more story telling way. Remember, story telling photography preceded abstract photography as an art form. In some cases, you can accomplish both in the same image.

I never attempted to make abstract photos. I always simply made the pictures that I wanted to make, when I wanted to make them. It was often after I got home, that I realized I had created some images that most people will consider to be abstracts. I do think on some rare occasions, abstract photographers (as in photographers of abstracts), can be a little pretentious in the way they look at traditional realism in photography. There is no right or wrong way as long as future viewers of the image, get something from the image, be it literal or abstract. What they get, is personal to them.

I believe all of today’s images are either in camera abstracts (no major Photoshop), or very close.

I cannot swear what the subject is in today’s first two images. It is irrelevant if I accept them on their own merits although I admit, I’d like to know.

This first image was made by N. Feans and it certainly has the look of a building with windows, although it also seems it might be a very small object. It matters little though and I love the way the subject angles into infinity, and the way the light changes gradually. Composition and light, are the major factors in most imagery. Be it literal or abstract.1

Next we have an image by Javi Noruego. It seems to be metal and probably a cage. The question is, are we on the outside looking in, or the inside looking out?2cageJaviNoruego

Manmade objects have a myriad of possibilities in the abstract, but so does nature.

This is a “straight forward” abstract of a Kiwi Fruit. It was made by Alex Filho. Searching up close for patterns and designs on natural objects like fruit, could be a lifelong process. I could imagine an entire book on the subject.3Kiwi Alex Filho

I expect that it is manmade objects that provided the jarring red in this next picture, certainly the water and probably the ripples are born of nature. JJ Corider made the picture.4reflections a ripples jjcoridier

I love reflections. How you compose, and/or crop an image has everything to do with what it conveys.

I imagine the photo below would be considered a semi abstract and it seems to have been touched up in the editing process. It is beautiful and it is my favorite image in this collection. Landscape photographer Valerie Millett is the creator and composition via lens choice and the location of the photographer, along with the light existing at the time the shutter is clicked, are soooo important in this image.

This work of art has been recently published in Shutterbug Magazine.5Mountains Shutter Bug Magazine Valerie Millet

While I cannot tell you what was going through the minds of the above photographers when they made their pictures, I can usually manage at least some semblance of what I was thinking when I made my own.

The images below were made on 35mm slide film and were probably made well back into the early 1980s when I was still using Canon equipment. The subject is a feather. I know not from what bird this feather came. If memory serves me ( I have photographed many feathers) it was found in the field and photographed on site. The sunlight was muted and not what I wanted. Instead, I used a small electronic flash and fired it towards a silver reflector which then bounced the light back onto my subject. Remember, this was film not digital. It could have been anywhere from two days to two weeks before I reviewed my results. I can tell you that this is in fact what I was envisioning. No amount of depth of field would  cover the bends and sways in the feather at this close distance, and that meant to me, that I needed to use my focus very carefully. I knew that the whole feather would not be sharp so I looked for a rhythm as our eyes travel from sharpness to softness.   The first image was clearly cropped a bit from left to right after I originally downloaded the digital copy of the 35mm slide.

6AbsractElMorro 094

7AbsractElMorro 095

These images are not a distortion of reality, but it is not a literal translation by either. It was about being true to my subject, and true to my vision as well. That’s what photography is really about, or least it seems so to me.

There is nothing wrong with looking at a rock or a leaf or a building, and seeing a rock or a leaf or a building, and wanting to share that through photography. There’s also nothing wrong with looking at those subjects, and seeing only patterns, colors, texture, light and shadow, and sharing that.

It is what it is to you, and just because what you find is different from what others may find, doesn’t make your image less significant. Be the photographer you are.


When  you read a post of mine in which the paragraph breaks are either unequal from one paragraph to another, or there are no breaks between paragraphs, it means that I have written the post on my ASUS computer and copied and pasted it into this blog. With all the bells and whistles and other luxuries on that computer it has a “Mickey Mouse” word processing program that is never understood by websites or blogs. Normally, I either write, copy, and paste with Microsoft Word from my Sony computer, or I write it straight into the blog. I always think I can fix it (from the ASUS) while it is in the draft state on this blog, but it never really works. Hopefully I have learned my lesson….you cannot fix everything in life, so do it right the first time.


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