Abstract Photography’s Challenge
“The greater the ambiguity, the greater the pleasure.” – Milan Kundera, Czech writer “Learning to live with ambiguity is learning to live with how life really is, full of complexities and strange surprises.”
James Hollis, American Psychoanalyst
The word ‘Abstract’ is multifaceted. It’s an adjective, it can be a noun, and can work as a verb. In the context of photography, Abstract represents abstruse visualization and or conjuration of philosophical or hypothetical concepts which enable us to sense larger issues surrounding us. Abstract photography constitutes, at a fundamental level, compound sensing of compound realities. It’s the capacity to create, compose or frame telling images that are non-existent to our naked vision. Such images exist only as ideas, which the skillful abstract photographer locates and composes to reality. It can be an image-idea that reveals the within or the without, sometimes both. The geometric properties of our physical world are largely abstract – latent ideas.
The prerequisite is the capacity to sense – not see
The art of abstract photography is a complex process of sensing things beyond the big five senses. I do not pursue clarity, it’s an illusion, I hunt for ambiguity and its nebulous aesthetic, which is invariably, a certainty. It is a heuristic process at all times. A method that is cognitive, occasionally subconscious, and involves a geometric conscience, especially in urban settings. Our neurons and their synapses are slower than modern processors. We do not compute nor do we correlate well – but, we are incredibly faster in our perceptual tasks. We quickly learn something general by seeing something specific. I sense the city as an onion, layers after layers of fractal revelations: complex elements and beings, in their interactions, producing random and fragmented experiences that banish any idea of being static or still.
In 2017 I had introduced an original typology of aesthetic: The Aesthetic of Ambiguity. It was an article with supporting evidence on what I had theorized and proposed, in several major publications, titled: “Our Urban Fragmentation – the aesthetics of Ambiguity.” It was about our urban life and how its ambiguity was in the reflected fragmentation of our movements, especially, our deviations, diversions and distractions, that I was able to abstract as photographs – ambiguity is the urban condition. This heuristic experience had led me to the question and the conclusion that there’s no such thing as “Still Photography” – nothing is static or in stasis. Everything moves, and is in the process of transformation, organic as well as inorganic, in various degrees and speed. And that movement is ambiguous, producing a variety of reactionary facets.
Ambiguity is the coalescing of all the known and unknowns in our environment, which begets atmosphere, which in turn yields in the beautiful mystery of time and space. It’s the manifestation of an inexplicable aesthetic, through a very mystical process that is protean as it is primordial. And, our capacity to discern and derive pleasure from it is indeed a supreme capacity, only attained by disciplined honing of our sense beyond our five normal senses. A singularly human capacity. How do we arrive at this aesthetic? It’s a very nebulous process, and it begins with our faulty assumptions, which become the foundation to our surprises, which births that aesthetic we stumble into, if we are perceptive. We do not lead lives that unfold in three acts, or in action-reaction-consequence, nor in any linear manner, no matter how diligently and resolutely we plan for it. Here’s my experience of it:
In Paris, I had planned and charted all my eight hour walks, all twenty-one days, along the streets and boulevards that sported the most historic monuments and museums. However, on all occasions, I was induced into side streets and alleys that revealed the daily lives of the people living there – instead of a static, a live museum of people going about their lives. Young local couples standing in the shadows whispering intentions, women gossiping, children screaming and playing, an altercation over dog poop, and a cart vendor trying to drown the altercation with his sales pitch, all in French. I found the real Paris here, in these distractions and detours. I would abandon the prefigured route and yield to such accidents, exactly as life is. Everyday, I looked forward to such distractions after the initial days.
The urban environment is an amalgam of systems, a colossal arena of accidental transactions. The fractal systems we build around ourselves are to structure our work, but more significantly, our non-linear chaotic thoughts and lives. Our lives spread like mercury on a flat surface, in whatever direction opportunity manifests. And yet, this mutational behavior, is within an environment that’s geometric, in sharp and rigid planes, angles of glass, wood and concrete. We deploy geometry, the science of configuration to offset our psyche scripts and internal chaos. Geometry is derived from the most ancient science: Astronomy, from where regularities, patterns and systems originate – the challenge is to be in sync with these natural systems.
We all exist within various self created systems, dictated by our vocation. The systems we create replicate our own bio-physical systems of the interconnected and the interdependent, in consumption and production of waste. Our complex conditions derive from our complex behaviors, that are the consequence of the systems we exist in. And the systems we create are minute compared to our bio system. Here’s an example of the size of our bio system:
There are 40 trillion cells in each person > each cell is made up of millions of bits of info > if each cell was represented by
a marble > it would fill the White Sox baseball park a 1000 times over > that’s how big our bio system is > and yet, if one cell malfunctions it is identified and repaired or replaced > systems created by us are very small, yet we cannot quickly identify and fix issues, because systems are uniformity constructs which neutralizes motivation or incentive.
You may ask what relevance does all of these disparate concepts have with abstract photography. It’s the same relevance as the moon, which at a quarter million miles, yet affects us with its magnetic force and cycles. Nothing is irrelevant to the abstraction of images, every aspect of existence is interconnected, therefore relevant, despite the seeming distance. Everything overlaps, and everything has a subtext, it’s transparent and opaque at the same time. The more information we possess, the better informed we are with contexts. It’s more than just equipment, light, focus and composition of the object or the subject. It’s multilevel messaging about the whole, or a significant part of the whole, which is not apparent to our naked eye. Everything is game in AP, nothing is irrelevant. Information is quarry and power in AP.
Ruling bodies push uniformity on us, uniformity in education, work, society. But, uniformity is, in fact, a cruel inhuman construct. We impose it on ourselves in our urban spaces, paradoxically, it is this intrusive algorithm that we try to randomize and escape from with our diversions or detours. The uniformity of an office cubicle we spend eight hours is an anathema to our smallest constituents: cells, even cells are independent and singular in function within our body. The cubicle kills creativity because it’s the manifestation of inverse synergy, in restricting, constricting and confining – thus, catharsis of independence is sought in chaos and asymmetry. We create our own vicious vortexes and cycles, with default as escape – it’s this syllogism that I want to capture – an extremely challenging proposition.
Individual psychology and independence > we create systems of uniformity and compliance > This results in enormous stress, PTSD, fatigue, CTS and other maladies > we inadvertently create a new set of conditions > to escape such conditions we create our detours and distractions > leading us back to freedom > but over time, entropy, the failure of systems.
Abstract photography is about urban sentience or conscience that enables perception of such syllogisms on urban fragmentation. I sense the fragments of existence in such reflective environments. Nothing linear, all random and disparate ambiguous mental images. The very nature of urban life dissolves the distinction between animate and inanimate. Static things seem to constantly move in light, while we seem to stagnate in the darkness within. Therefore, we seek compensation in the illusion of escape with furtive, spasmodic and staccato movements – inverse synergy, again. We beat against the cage we had created.
Youthful speed is what defines urban life, especially, at city centers. It’s a skimming-the-surface existence that seeks the adrenaline rush, quick frictional self focused engagements. It’s an existence that seeks escape without, not mature enough to seek it within. The urban setting is rife with cataclysmic possibilities and propensities, nevertheless, it’s a higher risk to higher rewards algorithm. Modernist minimalism had banished the circle, everything is rectilinear in sharp angles, a direct contrast to natural form and rhythms. Only recently are we seeing the rectification of this faulty practice, reducing the heat between the amorphous mass and the rigid angular mass. Is the transfer of energy congruent?
Another way to look at it is in thermodynamic parlance. Youth is the movement of mass against the seemingly static mass: the fixed environment, and the transfer of energy from the moving mass to static mass issues forth changes that transforms the moving mass, its culture, society and nation, not necessarily all positive. It also results in Entropy – a scientific concept, a measurable physical state that is associated with disorder and randomness. Entropy escalates in time – lack of order or predictability, and a gradual decline into disorder. Such scientific and metaphysical concepts must be grasped before we can sense the abstract we can compose or frame into an image.
Abstract photography is the recruitment of ESP (extra sensory perception) within. You are trying to see the whole convulsing stew, not discrete individual ingredients. It’s veering off specific or concrete reality, specificity of object or subject, events or instances. It’s about pursuing the expression of characteristic qualities or atmosphere that is apart from specific subjects and objects. It’s trying to sense the essential qualities, the essence of something in general – a summary and removal of obstructive detail and other aspects to perceive or sense it. It’s about ambiguity, the whole – not clarity of a specific item.
For years my photographic practice has been to try and find correlations, mysterious synergies between various fractal constructs we create, to curb our chaotic fragmented instincts and thoughts within, and actions without. It almost requires clairvoyance, to be at the space and time, to capture or abstract contemporary urban conundrums, narrate the urban plight and flight within. This unique methodology, singular to myself, is to test, confirm and construct the image of ambiguous totality of the urban life.