Magazine article Communication World

Abstracting with Light: When Less Becomes More: Find the Hidden Details of Your Subject and Let Them Speak to the Viewer

Magazine article Communication World

Abstracting with Light: When Less Becomes More: Find the Hidden Details of Your Subject and Let Them Speak to the Viewer

Article excerpt

The word photography comes from the Greek words for "light" and "writing." When I use light to express ideas in my photographs, I look for ways to make my subject more abstract, showing less of it, to force the viewer's imagination to fill in the details. If my pictures can prod my viewers to mentally create their own image on top of mine, I stand a better chance of expressing an idea to them.

In my first example (right), I use light to abstract an enormous bronze sculpture of a horse's head on a sidewalk in the heart of Santa Fe, New Mexico. My goal was not to just describe the appearance of the subject--I wanted to express its beauty and power as a work of sculpture. I made this image in the early morning, when the interplay of light and shadow and the golden color of the light combined to help me interpret the bronze head as glittering metal. Using a long telephoto lens to narrow the zone of focus, and spot metering the subject to expose the highlights along the side of the horse's face, I bring out the facial muscles and arteries, as well as the detail on the bridle, to convey a sense of power. The bared teeth, a huge nostril and a glaring eye are all in deep shadow. They are there but not there, a tease for the viewer's imagination.

Tim May, a photographic artist living in Petaluma, California, made the second example (opposite, top left). He calls it "Goin' Home." He uses light to capture the strength and pride of a hardworking person without even showing him. May does so by using abstraction in an incongruous way: a shadow walking within a wall. The posture of the man carrying a large ladder on his shoulder is upright and strong, and is echoed by the three windows that surround him. The ladder also finds an echo in the horizontal tile roof that forms the top of the image. The brilliant yellow, intensified by the strong evening light, provides a stunning backdrop.

I shot the third example (opposite, top right) on a dock in Manta, Ecuador. I abstracted a fisherman with light and shadow to turn a mundane task into a powerful image. Backlighting makes this fisherman a symbolic figure, instead of describing his identity. The net creates a diagonal thrust, moving from the lower left-hand corner of the picture into his hands. …

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