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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.
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JackyRamone Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2010  Student Photographer
it could be argued, as gerhard richter did, that the paint becomes the object; when representation is eradicated, the paint becomes objectified itself.

i also indulge in the use of lights to create images such as yours. i used to be really into the light painting / light graffiti style, but its commercial dilution has just put me off completely; too many people are concerned with representation too, but the best lightpainters focus simply on expression adapted to a scene.
JaredPLNormand Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2010
Thanks for the watch.

Did Richter also argue that the paint is representational? Since I wrote this, I refined my vocabulary on the matter to be more specific. Too many people hear objective v. nonobjective and think objective v. subjective. Albeit close, it is not what I mean at all. Representational v. nonrepresentational is much more specific and readily understood. Certainly the paint becomes the theme or subject but the paint no longer represents physical nouns. That is what I try to achieve with my abstractions.

I admit I have felt conflicted with all the other light painters that seem to have sprung up in the past couple years. I take refuge in the fact that I am the only one to my knowledge who practices in film instead of digital (I have no idea of the outcome until I develop the film), working in darkrooms instead of on computer screens (much more intimate and better quality process), and displaying in galleries instead of dA (large physical prints instead of small digital screens).
JackyRamone Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2010  Student Photographer
Richter argued that ever since Duchamp, everything has been a readymade, everything has been real, and that "one day paintings will return to being pictures like they used to be." he said that in the 90s, so i'm interested as what his take on it would be now; surely the intangible domain of the internet is anything but 'realistic'?

where abstract painting is concerned, it seems you are trying to achieve the same as Richter: eliminating semiotics and therefore physical nouns ("for an artist there must be no names; not table for table, not house for house, not christmas eve for 24 december, not 24 december for 24 december... we have no business knowing such nonsense").

people will have practiced it with film, but i'm sure pretty much everybody takes preference over digital (incredibly convenient if you want to light paint).
SanIakob Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
This is what I am experimenting in a group I founded...


We start form nature...and try ro finish in culture...(that is abstraction)

Every artist found a way to go further in this "utopia" of abstraction...
you can find some interesting approaches to your questions there...:)

In the group we go..
form the very root : some are actual nature objects which try to evoke abstraction in the viewer's mind..

To the very top: some are pure abstracts trying to evoke the object in the viewer's mind.
JaredPLNormand Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2009
The problem I encounter with finding the solution in the real world is the distraction that the physical object always presents. Although the texture of the feathers are theoretically removed from the bird, they always remain just a macro-photograph of feathers, however beautiful and thought-provoking they may be. Therefore I desired to make the photograph so far removed from reality that people do not recognize any object at all. My colleagues noted that this causes the problem of the photograph not being recognized as a photograph, the light streaks not revealing the process of this process driven art. Whereas Jackson Pollock's paint reveals the process, path, and chronology of how he painted, the light streaks do not reveal the process of my art and even disguise the medium I used. Even I often call them paintings by accident.
SanIakob Featured By Owner Dec 21, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
your conclusion leads to...if light is what moves the photographic image, then the pure nonobjective element to photograph is light itself.

Kandinskys experiments were on plastic elements, color, line, point, equilibrium, texture...going really deep...there is no real nonbjective art....since we, as humans, can't think of anything we didn't previously perceive through our senses...that is objects of any even Kandisnky couldn't escape that...his unrecognizable shapes are in some primitive level, inspired and guided by object he perceived...on his "the spiritual in art" he says he starts his experiments from reality.

painting or photography are just paint with a brush and you can paint with a camera...if your camera captures something in such a way that the object portrayed becomes unrecognizable for the viewer...then the idea of "object is lost (for the moment)...if your photograph leads the viewer to think of line, color, texture, shades rather than "objects", then the nonobjective is present like in Kandinsky's paintings...

But, the brain always tries to associate unrecognizable images with something previously known (objects of similar color, shape) nonobjectivity doesn't exist from the viewer's side either...

Nonobjectivity is a utopia an ideal...not an actual level of reality...
JaredPLNormand Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2009
I disagree and often see things in an inverse relationship. I'll explain both but start with the disagreement.

Nonobjectivity has been achieved many times over and in multiple ways. As it is defined, nonobjective artwork is any piece whose focus or theme is not a person, place, or object. Certainly a triangle is a thing, but it is not an object; the difference being three-dimensionality and an ability to exist as is in the real, objective world. Kandinsky did start from real objects and places because his early work was landscapes. Eventually the landscapes began to simplify and stylize and break down into basic shape and line until he reached a significant conclusion that most abstract, especially nonobjective, artists reach: attempting to depict reality is holding us back. Therefore intention is the difference here. After all, the difference between art and an everyday object starts with the intention of the creator who calls it art or an everyday object.

This sort of leads me into my own conclusion about photographic nonobjectivity but requires a bit of a leap in logic. There is no material difference between an objective and a nonobjective painting or an objective sculpture and a nonobjective sculpture. If the painter rearranged the paint to make a face instead of a circle, he would have a portrait which constitutes objectivity. If the sculptor worked the metal into the shape of a chair instead of a cube, he would have an object which constitutes objectivity. Photography on the other hand is much more difficult because it always renders objectively because of the nature of the technology. Whereas the painter starts with basic paint and works it through stages that may seem nonobjective (circles, triangle, curved line) then continues to add detail the shapes and lines until it forms a face (circles to eyes and head, triangle to nose, curved line to mouth), a photograph always starts with the face perfectly rendered. So when making a nonobjective photograph, I had to work backward and manipulate the technology to only capture it's primal element, light, so that it renders only the basic design elements, line, shape, value, texture, without showing a recognizable object, even the light bulb.

Certainly people are reminded of objects. During my Red Star Bar display of Abstractions #80-#86, everyone thought Abstraction #85 looked like a vagina. I understand completely that it is human nature to simplify, quantify, and group similar themes and it cannot be avoided. This does not mean that nonobjectivity is never achieved. It simply means that most people do not comprehend abstract ideas. After all, infinity is nearly impossible to comprehend unless one is able to think in abstract mathematical terms but it does not mean infinity does not exist.

I said I often think in the inverse to your logic and would explain that. I read an article explaining all of this. I really should find it for citation but that takes time I do not think is necessary to spend unless you desire citation, so let me know.

How about this thought: no art is objective because no art is exactly like the object it intends to render. I do not mean to say that all art is nonobjective because once again it boils down to intention. I mean to say that all art is abstracted reality and is never perfect, even photography. I think about it as a spectrum where objective is on one end and nonobjective on the other with abstract spanning the entire space in between. A photograph can never be completely objective because the photograph is flat, reality is three-dimensional; the photograph crops, reality exists all around us without disruption; and a photograph exists inside a particular time frame (i.e. 1/60 second), reality exists perpetually. Therefore, sculpture is the medium which comes closest to true and complete objectivity because it is the only medium that can render the exact object it intends to replicate exactly as the original object exists. Study "One and Three Chairs" by Joseph Kosuth for more thoughts on the subject.

So using your logic, objectivity in two dimensional art is an ideal. Wait! . . . If a painter does not intend his painting to exist as a representation of reality and paints a nonobjective painting, then the painting does not exist as anything more than a painting in its purest form making it a painting in its purest form in reality and therefore truly objective on all levels. If a photograph shows no attempt to capture a moment in reality then it exists as exposed and chemically developed paper with no other nature than a silver-gelatin print then it is just that and is completely objective. Interesting?
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