haphazart abstractions - modernist / post-modernist?

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At one point in a haphazart discussion about modernism vs. post-modernism I summarised a set of questions that were posed but still remain unanswered:

  1. Where in the scheme of post-modern practice do abstraction works fit?
  2. Does our abstraction work do what Stafford argues: disparate or fragmentary images in coherent compositions to produce larger coherent meanings.'?
  3. Does anybody still agree with Greenberg that 'the judgment of beauty is (tacitly) universal and incompatible with interest and practicality'.?
  4. Do any haphazartists [abstract photographers] question the formalist tenets of modernist abstraction?

I would like to try and begin to address the last question. Before doing so, I'll outline what I understand to be key elements / criteria of modernist photography - bearing in mind that there will be divergent views on the matter. Mine derives essentially from one that is linked to its European origins via the Bauhaus movement, etc.


Essentially a dynamic mode of photography celebrating the man-made rather than

the natural world.

This involves:-

  • the use of unconventional viewpoints such as worm's and bird's-eye views,

  • sudden changes in scale,
  • tendency towards dramatic tonal contrasts
  • radical cropping
  • a predilection for geometrical abstraction and flattening of form/ shapes
  • preference for urban/modern materials: steel, concrete, reflective surfaces such as:-
    • glass and chromium
    • tendency toward dramatic expression
    • adherence to compositional rules

Haphazartists are a diverse group of photographers and there is considerable diversity within the body of their work. So far, modernist tenets have not overtly been challenged in any of the discussions. However, I would say that a post-modern aesthetic can be found in many images not only posted to the group but also selected in the special themed shows. Modernist photography was/is basically done in black and white. One could argue that any colour image is already post-modern. But there are other factors.

Just a few examples:

pete pick - a fine use of abstraction within a rural setting rather than a man-made environment.

corrugation black 21 caburn

Likewise htakat's image has a landscape setting, but the blur in the image renders it one that has more to do with subtle changes in tone and colour than with form or subject matter.

landscape in fog

Christian's (tossthecam) image also has no obvious compositional lines / structure, instead it features some very delicate textural details....the importance given to 'almost nothing' here hints at an influence of Eastern philosophy and aesthetics. It seems concerned more with the creation of 'visual poetry' than about ideas or dramatic form.I do not think that this aligns the image with the more rational and concept driven post-modern concerns though.

Christian (delay tactics) - stretches the abstraction to its limits in a more 'dead pan' post-modernist fashion.....at least on this occasion

chair chair

Paul Glazier's image is about an interior scene, soft fabric on a soft couch - it seems quite removed from modernism in terms of subject matter and form.



I picked this image by Paul Glazier since in my view, it illustrates perfectly how many disparate elements can be pulled together into a cohesive abstracted whole....providing the viewer with a cohesive meaning perhaps, although to me it is more likely to be a poetic and an elusive one.


There is little doubt that the images you have selected above from the haphazart! pool can be said to represent a move from the modernist focus to the postmodernist focus, and for the reasons you have outlined.
Do you have a critical response to the suggestion that the whole process of image making and image consumption is changing into something new - beyond the traditionally-based academic rhetoric concerning modernism and post-modernism?

For those photographers who are informed by and reference the visual arts of painting, sculpture et al. as a primary motive for their work in/with the medium of photography abstraction can play a major role in their work as it did with many of the Modernists who work with abstraction.

"What happens when photography attempts to do without the use of form? A better question might be, what happens when form is photography's goal? When form is the goal, silver (analog) (ink, silver halide/digital) serves to represent something else: an object, a view, a figure, a face. Considered this way, figurative photography is actually an abstraction of something "real." That frees Abstract photography to become the true realism, since Abstract photography is about the silver, and how silver never stops being silver. But what if a photograph could convey space without sacrificing silver always being silver? This would be photography with primary attention given to the silver as its own entity, yet still conveying spatial elements of form. Abstraction asks us to deal with itself on multiple levels. Their silver draws us in, while simultaneously the surfaces and forms come forward, thus using surface as a representation of space. The significance is immense. Illusionary space was the goal of all painters from the Renaissance up to Picasso, who redefined that goal with the dislocations of Cubism. Clement Greenberg's writing emphasized the philosophical underpinnings of Abstraction – of making art that is about the purity of material and process – so that a painting (insert photograph) could become both subject and object."

Allocated from an article appearing at http://www.flickr.com/photos/pgla/

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This page contains a single entry by krystina published on March 18, 2009 11:25 AM.

contemporary art/photography: another note was the previous entry in this blog.

'poetically man dwells' is the next entry in this blog.

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