Mysterious photography – ‘Abstract Extracts’

Searching for interesting details within the wider landscape is a particular interest of mine. I particularly enjoy discovering small details that generally go unnoticed as we pass them by but when taken out of their context can be transformed through photography into abstract images revealing an inherent aesthetic beauty and creating a sense of mystery.

David Ward a well-known British photographer has a portfolio rich in intimate landscapes and it includes some remarkable examples of images created by focusing in on small sections of objects – boats, rock formations, fallen logs. Most of the subjects are recognisable but some are more abstract and require extra interpretation by the viewer. He says on page 62 of his 2004 book ‘Landscape within: insights and inspiration for photographers’, “… abstraction offers the chance for subjectivity to gain the upper hand … abstraction can lead to the viewer looking more deeply at a subject than they would otherwise”.

Minor White who took mystery and abstraction in his images to a high level used the term ‘extractions’ rather than ‘abstractions’ to acknowledge the images are created using real objects rather than figments of our imagination. He stresses the value of ambiguity in the sort of images I refer to as ‘abstract extracts’ – these are images of real objects but framed to create visual ambiguity and a sense of abstraction. White says that creating visual ambiguity in an image is a way of providing a pathway for a viewer to connect through the image with “(their own) inner states of mind and emotions” (Juliet Hacking ed, 2012, p.336, Photography: the whole story. Thames & Hudson, London).

Minor White is also quoted in David Ward’s book (2004, p.62) saying (about ‘abstract’ images’), “… if we make the attempt to engage, rather than reject, the ambiguous rendering of a subject in a photograph, (we) invent a subject for it. What we invent is out of the stuff and substance of ourselves. When we invent a subject (for the abstract image) we turn the photograph into a mirror of some part of ourselves”. The ambiguity and abstraction is therefore an important part of helping a viewer achieve a greater emotional involvement and metaphorical connection with the image through their search for meaning within the image.

I think ‘abstract extracts’ demonstrate an extra dimension of photographic creativity. By finding an appropriate subject and photographing it in a way that creates a sense of visual mystery the photographer produces an image that is a tangible reminder of the breadth of natural beauty that surrounds us but is hidden in plain view until revealed through the eyes of a photographer.

As an example of an ‘abstract extraction’ the image shown in this post was taken a few days ago. It’s ‘extracted’ from a fairly uninteresting subject (an old mechanical crane) but by removing the context it becomes a much more interesting image (for me at least). Even knowing what the subject is and its context I still find myself in a sort of interactive loop as my brain keeps trying to make sense of what it sees. It is as though my mind is on an unconscious quest to reveal the missing caption so the image can be neatly categorised within the context of my personal representation of reality.




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