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Submitted on
November 12, 2013
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“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” 
- Ansel Adams

  When photography was first created it was used primarily for portraits. It was not yet mobile and therefore could not yet be used in genres like landscape or journalism. Portrait painters at the time felt that photography was not legitimately artistic, and this spurred the "Pictorialist" photographic movement. In defense of their art, Pictorialists depicted subjects with soft visual effects and artistic poses. At the beginning of the twentieth century a man named Paul Strand countered the "Pictorialist" movement stating that it was too apologetic, and did not take advantage of the new medium.

  Paul Strand was an American Modernist photographer leading the drive to establish photography as a valid form of fine art. However, he did not believe that all forms of photography held artistic value. His argument was based on the idea - central to modernist art, of 'truth of materials'. Strand believed that photography had to be 'based on inherent qualities' of the 'medium' and work with the 'true laws of photography'.

  US photo-modernism, identified with Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, followed the path marked out by Strand and the later Stieglitz. Painterly subjects and effects were ditched for sharp focused precise photographs.

"At every turn the attempt is made to turn the camera into a brush, to make the photograph look like a painting, an etching, a charcoal drawing or whatnot, like anything but a photograph..." - Paul Strand

  It was not until the past few decades that photographers began to challenge these rules that had been set out for photography. Artists began to explore new technologies and techniques to create photographic works that were abstracted. Photographers began to create a new visual language in photography by using depth of field and focus to blur parts of or entire images. A small selection of some of the leading photographers of today who work in this style:

Uta Barth

Robert Stivers

Keith Carter

David Levinthal

Andres Serrano

  Here on DeviantArt many photographers are exploring these ideas and creating beautiful works that are reliant on the lack of sharpness and focus in order to convey a thought or emotion. Here is a small selection of some of these artists:

Under the sun by JakezDanielIn transit by JakezDanielSatori (with colors) by JakezDaniel

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storm coming by ForrestBumpDeja Vu landscape XXXI by ForrestBumpDeja Vu landscape XXV by ForrestBump

Ghost Phenomenon Sign by peterle28Lost In Space... by peterle28Under My Earth... by peterle28

Beacon by vonsacThe Veil by vonsacIsland by vonsac

Walls Have Eyes II by IzaaaaaMy Alabaster Wings by IzaaaaaUntitled by Izaaaaa

Questions for the Reader:

  1. Is abstraction valid in photography? Or should it be left to the painters, who during the previous century, already fully explored and mastered abstraction and non-representational art.
  2. Are there any other artist, either on DeviantArt or elsewhere, that you'd like to share and that can add to this discussion?
  3. Which do you think makes the most successful photograph: Full tack sharpness throughout, some sharpness mixed with some blur, or fully abstracted?

Add a Comment:
peterle28 Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2013  Professional Photographer
Sorry for my delay, my friend! Thank you so  much for featuring my work!
justanothersomeone Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2013  Student Photographer
No worries. It's a pleasure!
NicPi Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2013  Professional General Artist
:heart: if you love this kind of photography, you might want to take a look at :iconbeautiful-blur: Thank you for this article!!!
WTek79 Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2013
Just one last word about your first question.

As some already said, saying that abstraction has been already fully explored by painters sounds a little bit off. It's like saying that "all dreams have already been dreamed"... how could we know ?

And actually I think that on the contrary, photography is a great addition to the abstraction genre. I feel it brings a new concept that painting does not have. Let me try to explain.

Painting is a pure creation process, you start from a blank canvas, and you have to create everything from scratch. And the viewer looking at a painting knows about that.

But a photograph always starts with something "real" : what is in front of the camera at the moment you press the button. Then, using many different tools (selective focus, rotation, cropping, color manipulation, etc), the artist come up with something abstract. Even if visually the result might be "similar" to a painting, there is a huge difference to me : the viewer always knows, because it is a photograph, that it started from something real.

And for me this concept (the reality beneath the picture) is a great addition to the Abstraction genre because the artist can play with that. For example make the viewer wonder : "what was that to begin with ?". The artist can leave enough clues, but not too much, like some sort of a game.

Another usage of that concept would be that the reality beneath, when perceived, adds an additional sense to the whole picture. Let's say that an abstract picture represents what looks like endless repetitive lines. Then, you realize that it is actually a building. Thus the whole picture might become some kind of a metaphor of the monotony of our urban lives.

Well, you could always say that you can paint exactly the same thing, so what would be the difference ? Yeah, you might be right. But still, in a painting there "might" be a reality beneath. In a picture there is "always" a reality beneath. And for me it is a great pleasure to play with that ! :)
justanothersomeone Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2013  Student Photographer
I wholeheartedly agree with you. That's why I chose photography as my main medium. It comes with the inherent challenge of having to be created from what is around us. Painting felt too open for me creatively and the potentiality of the ability to paint anything I desired actually constricted my creativity instead of liberating it.
miontre Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
  1. Yes, I think it's definitely valid. There's no reason why it shouldn't be valid. I sometimes come across "professional" photographers or "elitist" groups who think their photos are the best because they're technically perfect: sharp focus, textbook composition, expensive lighting, slightly over-saturated colours... While these people's photos may be good, they usually aren't very compelling. I think it's breaking the rules that make a photo interesting - not only lack of focus, but any other rule. It's what makes a photo unique, compelling, and worthy of attention. I always go back to the photos which are little imperfections, but never go back to the ones which are perfect.

  2. Most definitely. ^arctoa and `DpressedSoul would probably add well to this conversation. They both have interested work too. I'll share some below along with some of my favourites:

    Black Static by arctoa  Swarm Intelligence by DpressedSoul  no rules 5.5 by esracolak  The Saucer Tree by JillAuville  Flames Of The Wind by KizukiTamura

  3. It really depends on what the artist's goal is. But, like I said before, I'm usually more attracted to photos with imperfections. They are far more interesting, in my opinion. Of course, that isn't to say I don't like photos which are more "perfect", but I find imperfect ones much more artistic and story-telling.
justanothersomeone Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2013  Student Photographer
^arctoa and `DpressedSoul are both amazing artist and make great contributions to the discussion. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I agree with you about the imperfections. That's what makes alternative processes so beautiful and rewarding. In that you know with a certainty that your image will not come out perfectly like one does when you print a digital photograph. Each print will have its own character and flaws.
DpressedSoul Featured By Owner Dec 6, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Thank you, kindly. I wish my English skills would be good enough to contribute to the discussion, but I'll let my work speak for me instead. :)

As for me, I always choose impact before technical perfection. Most of the flawless high quality photography doesn't move me at all. 
LadyKylin Featured By Owner Nov 13, 2013
The very idea that abstract should be only left to painters and the like is ridculous. That makes about as much sense as telling painters and other traditional artist they shouldn't bother with hyper realism since a photogrpah can do that. Whatever tool an artist usses they are only limited by thier ablity and imagnation.

As to what kind of photo's are most succesfull, I haven't a clue, I personally perfer a focused center point with less focus around it so it's much how I would see something but I haven't delved into abstract photogrophy as I'm not much into abstract to be honest.
Garance-Verdier Featured By Owner Nov 13, 2013
Very interesting, and thank you!
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