Abstract Photography (including some colour images)

Since 1993 I have been photographing close-up, large format photographs of weathered walls. Some were taken in busy streets in cities such as Swansea, Nottingham, Bristol and Brighton whilst others were taken in rural Wales in empty cottages, farms and mansions. Below is an essay explaining why I take such photographs.

These abstract photographs are inspired by the American Abstract Expressionist painters from the 1950's but especially by the work of American photographer Aaron Siskind, whose work I urge you to seek out.


Great Frampton Mansion, Llantwit Major, South Glarmogan 2009

A WORD ON ABSTRACTION:

Aaron Siskind, the American photographer, continuously wrote about ‘the conflicts and tensions’ of his abstract work. These mirrored his personal life, which he considered complete yet missing some vital components. He needed his photography yet for all the reward it offered him it also offered twice as many questions, mainly unanswerable.

I first caught glimpse of Siskinds’ work, in 1994, in a book containing many a great American photographer. I had owned this book for a fair few years and was familiar with many of the photographers therein: Edward Weston, Lee Friedlander, Minor White, William Eggleston et al.

Flicking through the pages one day I stopped and studied one of Siskind’s photographs. It was of an old glove laying on some dark planks. I had looked at this picture before. It hadn’t moved me nor had it particularly interested me but this time I read what Siskind had to say of this photograph. This image of an old humble worn glove, photographed with a flat perspective, released some deep voice within him and it was then he found an outlet for his inner most thoughts. This was a revelation to Siskind and in this book, in his words, adjacent on the page, it also sat comfortable with me.

It was at this point I realised the useful, but by no means essential, association between image and word. And it was from that day on that I went out photographing with new eyes. I avoided the obvious and sought out the ordinary and often ignored. And there within this thought a whole different concept of photography was revealed to me.

To this day I am not much on Siskind’s image of the discarded glove, although I do view it with some kindness and I am grateful for the insight that Siskind gave me... (continues below)


Devil's Bridge, Ceredigion 2003


Devil's Bridge, Ceredigion 2003

I approach my subject matter with the same kind of intensity as Siskind. I want my exposure to have impact on the viewer, to invariably and emotionally, hit them. I expect from myself a multitude of responses and emotions. I am not a particularly a technical photographer. I do not wish to worry about scientific technique or be bogged down with equipment and be too muddled to use it. What matters is the subject, it’s graphic and physical qualities, and my emotive response albeit a frequent one of confusion.

For most of my growing up I have lived in Mid Wales, approximately 16 miles east of Aberystwyth, in the hills near to the old mining community of Cwmystwyth. I have been photographing the surrounding landscape, bleak, wet, remote and little visited, since I moved here in 1989. Like most photographers my preferred area is my local area.

I purchased a field camera in 1991, discontent with the quality of the smaller formats and confident its size would not deter me from my wanderings, and set out into the landscape again with open eyes and heart. The slow workings of the camera and with the economy of film that the large format forces, meant I began photographing with greater consideration.

My work has a central theme of dereliction and my basic ‘conflicts and tensions’ are the relationships between man and nature: man’s impact on nature and nature’s reclamation of human intervention – this covers the scars that mining has left on the landscape and through to the many abandoned, state-of-collapse cottages and farm dwellings that lay scattered in this area of Wales. I am also in the process of completing a series of photographs of ruined mansion houses in Wales – although self explanatory – these mansions are also a rich source of photogenic abstractions. They contain everything from crumbling walls to rusty oven ranges, to dirty windows and damp rooms of graffiti.

Graffiti also plays a role in another favourite subject matter, and Siskind’s favoured subject: Walls. Since 1995 I have been seeking such wall abstractions, weathered billboard posters with fragments of lettering, layered and multi-linguistic – peeling paint, fly-poster remnants. From the time I find a suitable wall to the end of the exposure I am in a trance and lost within my ground glass screen.

Exposures can vary from 1 second to 2 hours and these extended exposure times give me the chance to become acquainted and totally absorbed in my subject matter. This, in itself, helps build up a relationship with the small section of the littered wall I am photographing. And it is this, I believe, helps with the printing and understanding of an abstract image.

Ultimately to translate this into a viewer friendly form can be the hardest part and where the introduction of the written word may be beneficial. It is ever evident that a photographer must convincingly justify his/her selection of subject matter. The paradox lies with finding some balance between an educated visually successful image and visual simplicity. It can easily be forgotten that above all an image must be able to speak for itself. Words may help as an explanation – leading the viewer into the right direction – but an image should never be dependant on words. Let the form, natural pattern and visual impact all speak for itself. If this is a truth then all else will slot easily into place.


New Row, Ceredigion 2003

Below are a few colour images of recent abstractions. I primarily take a few colour snapshots to serve as a visual reminder should the black and white images are for some reason unprintable due to camera shake and/or poorly exposed. Usually the empty properties these images are taken in are very poorly lit and taking exposure readings can sometimes be a hit and miss affair when using exposures of between 16 - 90 minutes. I do not always carry enough sheet film with me to 'bracket' the exposures and therefore many of the images are taken using just one sheet of film. (Paul White 2010)


Nottingham 1997


Nottingham 1997


Nottingham 1997


Nottingham 1997


Blaen Baglan, West Glamorgan 2010


Great Frampton, South Glamorgan 2009


Hove, East Sussex 2008


Hove, East Sussex 2008


Shoreham, West Sussex 2010


Shoreham, West Sussex 2010


Shoreham, West Sussex 2010


Tregaron, Ceredigion 2011


Tregaron, Ceredigion 2011


Tregaron, Ceredigion 2011