Photography as Abstraction

When, or how, does photography become fine art?  In some ways it is the most difficult medium in which to work.  Because of the precision of a camera as a recording device, the photographer must endeavor to see the shot, to frame it, to capture the light, to focus on the subject in a way that transcends the mere registration of the moment.

In one instance, it can be defining, journalistic, but deeper, capturing a moment that lives in our collective consciousness.  Think of the work of Margaret Bourke White, its rendition of the human condition is directly observed, re-presented so honestly that it is at once objective and impassioned.   “Saturate yourself with your subject and the camera will all but take you by the hand.”  MBW  It is this tension and the emotion that it stirs in us, that elevates these images beyond historical document.

The second avenue is more technical, about the film, its contrast and the process as well as the composition and the subject.  Here I site Mapplethorpe and Adams.  “Mapplethorpe produced a bevy of images that simultaneously challenge and adhere to classical aesthetic standards: stylized compositions of male and female nudes, delicate flower still lifes, and studio portraits of artists and celebrities, to name a few of his preferred genres. He introduced and refined different techniques and formats, including color 20″ x 24″ Polaroids, photogravures, platinum prints on paper and linen, Cibachrome and dye transfer color prints.” Mapplethorpe Foundation.  These two luminaries compose with nature and natural forms, rendering them in perfect gradations, high contrasts and unusual circumstances so that they become iconic, larger than life.  “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas.  It is a creative art.”  AA

The third, perhaps the most contemporary and challenging approach, is to conceive of and execute the project in such a way that the image has its own character independent of the initial subject matter.  This locates the photographic project within the realm of abstraction.  “Abstract art uses a visual language of form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world.”  Rudolph Arnheim Visual Thinking.  The presence of the artwork transcends the subject matter to become its own object.  This is particularly difficutl to achieve with a photograph because of the accuracy of the recording that defines the medium.  We assume that a purely photographic exercise excludes post production techniques and is limited to the image capture itself thus making the leap to abstraction more difficult.  It achieved by the composition and frame, the recording of natural light and physical phenomenon; patina, re-use, adaptation, and the marks of time.  These works stand as artistic compositions of their own genesis and occupy a place in the history of art alongside expressionist painting, cubism, and Dadaism.  They draw the viewer in and require an investment of imagination, an experiential dialogue in which the subject, the image and the viewer are all implicated.

Sharon Risedorph’s recent work at Pier 70 falls into this last category.  It looks directly at the early twentieth century waterfront landscape and finds in it a wealth of inspiration.  These works do not illustrate the size, scale, type or texture of the historical places, rather they find a wealth of raw material that is employed to create works of special presence.   These are pure renditions of light and form, “made” in a creative process that is the result of exploration, observation and opportunism.  Sharon uses the lens to produce works that are at once crisply photographic and richly abstract.  They embody space and form in the same way that James Turrell’s works render light as physical matter.  These images take the everyday, the discarded, the common and reposition it, elevating it to the level of abstraction that inspires curiosity and introspection.

We are excited to share these new works with you and look forward to seeing you all at Sharon’s show at Levy Art & Architecture in early September.