Abstract

dewdrop bokeh Water on a magnolia leaf. Image: Su Leslie 2018

“To abstract is to draw out the essence of a matter.” – Ben Shahn

The more photographs I make, the more I realise that I’ll never capture everything in a scene. And the more I try, the busier and more confused my images become.

I’m learning to focus my brain as well as my lens; to make judgements about what is important to me; what I want my image to say. Sometimes that means taking an image into the realms of abstraction.

img_6015 A starfish in the tide. Image: Su Leslie 2018

“The less there is to look at, the more important it is that we look at it closely and carefully.” ― Kirk Varnedoe

img_6013 Cactus leaves. Image: Su Leslie 2018
DSC09393 The storm. Image: Su Leslie 2013

“What does that represent? There was never any question in plastic art, in poetry, in music, of representing anything. It is a matter of making something beautiful, moving, or dramatic – this is by no means the same thing.” – Fernand Leger

img_6014 Tulips. Image: Su Leslie 2019

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge | abstract

Monochrome

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Image: Su Leslie 2019

When we think of monochrome in photography, it’s often as an alternative to colour — or even as its opposite.

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Fern frond. Image: Su Leslie 2019

We might allow sepia — with its connotations of nostalgia.

But sometimes, nature presents us with monochrome images; green leaves, a bunch of flowers, or a perfect blue day on the lake.

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Image: Su Leslie 2019

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Image: Su Leslie 2019

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Image: Su Leslie 2019

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Lake Tarawera, Rotorua, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2019

I’m sure there are others.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge | monochrome

 

Layers upon layers

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Evening light, Whanganui River estuary. Image; Su Leslie 2019

This week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge asks for interpretations of the word layered.

Do I approach it literally with the layers of a macaron or a cafe breakfast?

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Salted caramel macaron. Not only layering of the biscuits with buttercream, but layers within the baking itself. Image: Su Leslie 2019

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Hash-browns, mushrooms, eggs; layered to look good on the plate and distribute those delicious runny yolks throughout the dish. Image: Su Leslie 2019

Or stacked container layers, gone awry in high winds?

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Containers, Wellington Harbour. High winds have wrecked havoc with the carefully constructed layers. Image: Su Leslie 2017

More broken layers?

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Reflections in the contoured glass exterior of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre, New Plymouth, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2017

Or maybe layers in art?

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Detail, ‘Wave 2’ sculpture by Annette Thas. A tidal wave of discarded Barbie dolls installed at Tamarama Beach as part of Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi 2015. Image: Su Leslie

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Layer after layer of discarded Barbie dolls form a wave shape. Layers of plastic and layers of meaning. Image: Su Leslie 2015

And then there are layers created by the two-dimensional nature of photography; compressing landscapes into bands of colour and texture.

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Landscape, Canterbury, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2019

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Tutukaka, Northland, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2019

Not to mention layered images; double-exposures, super-impositions.

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Double-exposures; a newly discovered camera setting. Su Leslie 2019

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Photo-montage. Su Leslie 2019

Obviously, I couldn’t decide which to focus on.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge | layered

Stealing Oreos?

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Protesters against TPPA, Auckland, 2015. Image: Su Leslie

“Taking pictures is like tiptoeing into the kitchen late at night and stealing Oreo cookies.” – Diane Arbus

The tiptoeing part of that quote definitely resonates with me when it comes to photographing people, particularly candid shots. It’s not something I do often, and my general rule of thumb is to make my presence known, but unobtrusive.

And when I’m happy with the results — definitely an Oreo moment.

Lens-Artists’ Photo Challenge | candid

Filling the frame

I recently saw a photo which consisted of a square of pale pink wall. On the very far right of the image, was a rectangle of black, and tiny cluster of brighter pink flowers.

I loved it! The simplicity and minimalism of the shot is so totally outside my photographic aesthetic or vocabulary.

Seeing Patti’s choice for this week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge —  Filling the Frame made me realise how much I do exactly that. I try to minimise distraction and guide viewers to see the my subject more clearly by presenting it front and (generally off-) centre.

Yet the ‘pink-wall’ image achieved exactly the same goal, focusing my attention not by foregrounding the flowers, but by filling the frame with “white space.”

Expect some attempts at this from me soon.

Hope, despair and everything in between

Black and white close up shot of padlocked door bolt. Image: Su Leslie

Locked out? Or in? Image: Su Leslie

“Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.” —Robert Frank

In general, I think life can be better explained in terms of continua than dichotomies. Or to put it simply — it’s not so much black and white as shades of grey.

Even black and white photography is rarely, truly, black and white.

As someone who experiences periods of depression, I know the subtle on-going dance of hope and despair. The trick is learning to recognise and find expression for it.

Making photos helps; turning my focus outward and allowing me to shape new stories to tell — if only to myself.

The difference between hope and despair is a different way of telling stories from the same facts. — Alain de Botton

Weekly quotation-inspired image, hosted by Debbie at Travel with Intent

Pleasure in ambiguity

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Who else has passed this way? Cobbled lane, North Melbourne, Australia. Image: Su Leslie 2016

“To me photography must suggest, not insist or explain.”
– Brassaï

Ambiguity in an image can come from many sources; choice of subject, an unusual camera angle or focal point, unexpected movement, or shooting through an opaque surface — to think of a few.

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Detail, PixCell-Red Deer, sculpture by Kohei Nawa, seen at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia. Image: Su Leslie 2016

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Out there. Visitors outside the National Gallery of Victoria, seen from the Waterwall. Image: Su Leslie 2016

By suggesting, rather than explaining, the photographer allows every viewer to create their own meanings and stories.

More fun that way.

Posted to Debbie’s weekly quotation-inspired image challenge at Travel with Intent

The loveliest distance

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“A curved line is the loveliest distance between two points.” — unknown. Children’s art class. Image: Su Leslie 2018

Art begins with the line; sketches, paintings, even three dimensional works.

It seems to me that the urge to mark lines on a surface is quite fundamentally human. From paleolithic cave art to toddlers “redecorating” walls with Mum’s lipstick (true story — but it was my brother, honest); in all times and at all ages we seek to explore, document and indeed change our world with lines and all that flows from them.

Or as art historian Sir Kenneth Clark put it:

The difference between what we see and a sheet of white paper with a few thin lines on it is very great. Yet this abstraction is one which we seem to have adopted almost instinctively at an early stage in our development, not only in Neolithic graffiti but in early Egyptian drawings. And in spite of its abstract character, the outline is responsive to the least tremor of sensibility. 

At a cultural level, line-making helps to define humanity.

At a personal level it makes us happy — and sometimes deeply unhappy.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” — Pablo Picasso

The joy children experience in making art can so quickly be extinguished by external — and internal — critics. “That’s no good” becomes “you’re hopeless at art”, which becomes “I’m not creative.” I actually heard a woman at an art workshop say that while introducing herself to the group.

I started writing this post for Debbie’s One Word Sunday, where this week the word is lines. Then I realised that when I talk about art, and about making art, I am also talking about happiness. So I’m adding the post also to the Lens-Artists challenge | happiness is.