If visual art can be organized into a spectrum, where one end is objectivity and the other nonobjectivity, how far down the line can photography progress toward nonobjective? Can photography show something that is not a thing? "Each work of art which has an object, a figure, or a part of nature as its theme is objective," according to Arsén Pohribny's Abstract Painting. Therefore, an image of a chair is objective. Nonobjective art depicts no material objects. Jackson Pollock's drippings are nonobjective, as are Mark Rothko's color panels and Wassily Kandinsky's basic shapes and primary colors.
Photography is inherently objective. Many photographers, like Aaron Siskind, try to challenge that objectivity by making macro photographs of textures and strange objects. Others, like Man Ray, use experimental techniques to distort and disguise the image until it becomes something else entirely. I feel that their subjects always remain recognizable as objects. I can tell that it is tarred cement or a nude woman or clouds; all of which fall short of nonrepresentational images.
Everything we see is reflected light from a surface that describes an object visually. However, stars, flames, and light bulbs are sources of light, which enter our eye without being reflected off an object. By exposing only light sources, the photographed image bypasses any object's visual description. The light source is then as pure for photography as the paint for painters because it does not describe an object by itself. Therefore, the light source, if abstracted even a little, becomes nonobjective. Abstractions #80-#86 are my continuing and evolving body of work that brings photography into the nonobjective realm.
I use motion to create the abstraction and music to inspire my movements with the camera, turning the act of shooting into a spontaneous dance. My musical choices include Cake, KoRn, Led Zeppelin, Rage Against the Machine, System of a Down, and The White Stripes. This gives the images their energetic and rhythmic nature. The type of lines changes from set to set based on the arrangement, type, and quality of lights I use, similar to using different paint brushes. The recurring change in tone is alternating current running through the lights turning them on and off dozens of times per second.
During the capturing stage of the process, I am for the most part unable to compose with intention. I take advantage of the post-production stages to intercede will into the final piece. For this series, I focused my attention entirely on the resulting composition. After studying the composition, I inverted a specific area of the photograph to enhance certain elements and diminish others I considered distracting or unnecessary. The resulting images are a pleasing balance between spontaneous gesture and precise intention as well as blacks and whites.
I began developing my theory when I was first introduced to nonobjective art in an art history survey class at Louisiana State University during the Fall of my freshman year. Professor Zucker began speaking about Wassily Kandinsky's discovery of nonobjectivity in painting and I wondered how photography could accomplish the same. My initial conclusion resulted in a black photograph because I understood light to be the only means of creating an image and light always depicts something.
I abandoned the thought for more than two years. During that time, I assembled a project in my intermediate photography class my sophomore year that questioned the validity of several experimental and commercial types of photography as art photography. One of the photos was inspired by a drunken man who photographed me with a point-and-shoot camera after Jazz Fest 2005. He could not hold the camera still and made a photo with heavy motion blur. The colors blended and created a painterly abstraction of the environment around me. When he presented the screen to me with the remark, "This is you," I wondered if that sort of photograph could be accepted as art photography because it lacked a sharpness encouraged by professionals. The print I made was a tightly knotted ball of streaking lights shaped like a bow on top of a birthday present. I did not name the print until my junior year but I now call it Abstraction #1.
The name originated with the Sabatier effect project my experimental photography class. While searching for images to test the technique, I came across the negatives I shot for Abstraction #1 and wanted to shoot more. I searched out more locations and exposed four rolls one night. That night I realized that I had achieved my goal of making nonobjective photographs by exposing the photographic equivalent of paint. The experience was not only ground breaking for me but I enjoyed the rush of energy and intense motion that flowed out of me and through to my camera.
I refined the process with correct exposure settings and new and better locations for shooting. I viewed the development of the theory and artwork as an adventurer explores an uncharted land. I vowed to try all experiments until they proved to produce no fruitful product. Starting with paper negatives and some special darkroom techniques, I produced the series Abstractions #12-#56. Then I moved on to analogue prints from negatives then arranged the prints into paneled panoramas for the installation series Abstractions #57-#63. I also explored the possibility of symmetry and color with Abstractions #64-#79. When I experimented with color, I found myself paying too much attention to developing new colors and lost focus with the composition of the images. I reversed my development and digressed back to the monochromatic images to focus entirely up on the composition and how I react to them. Thus I produced this series of Abstractions #80-#86.
In future experiments, I plan to revise my application of color to better suit the composition. I will also apply paint to the images as a reaction to the composition. I believe the possibilities for this simple theory are endless and require innumerable attempts to hash out the most interesting and best work possible.