Everyday Abstracts

I presented a brief version of an earlier presentation titled Everyday Abstracts at the National Institute of Health Camera Club this week.  I had the opportunity to judge their Abstract themed competition on the same night and I was very impressed by both the quality and breadth of their work.  I was also pleased with their patience, as my early comments were so long that I made it a VERY late night for everyone.

Photoshop Actions

reverse-4After the presentation portion of evening, several people had requested a copy of the presentation, which I promised to post here on my website so that people could easily access the presentation and the references to the Photoshop Actions that I mentioned during the presentation.  These actions are free to use and greatly simplify the repetitive tasks of creating montages from digital images.

The image at the right was the starting point and by applying a Reverse Montage effect, which was based on a technique that I was taught for slide film produced the featured image.  Taking 2 copies of the same image, both overexposed about 1 stop and putting them in the same slide mount, with one of them flipped over.

The affect of this treatment is highly saturated colors on a perfectly symmetrical composition.  As a by product, almost any image becomes an abstract.  This is one of my favorite techniques, and I will take many images of areas with strong graphic lines to produce an image based on line, shape and color.

Creating abstract photographs is something that I do routinely because it allows me to express some creativity and create something that comes completely from my mind.  Even with a “found abstract,” the way that the image is cropped, exposed and the depth of field all play an important and expressive role.

Abstract Photography

Image of Composition VIII by Wassily Kandinsky
Composition VIII – Wassily Kandinsky

For the longest time I had no appreciation for abstract art.  I could not understand what it was that people saw in it.  Certainly I was familiar with and even liked Wassily Kandinsky’s Composition VIII pictured above, but it didn’t have any real meaning for me.  I could not understand it.

Over the years my wife, a trained graphic artist and now high school science teacher, would try to convince me that I did not need to like something just because it was a “famous” piece of art.  And that just because I liked something, didn’t mean that I actually had to understand “why” I liked it.  It was OK to just appreciate the work that I liked and ignore the work that I didn’t.

CRW_1272_cropWith that foundation laid, when I met Joe Miller and was able to spend some time discussing photography, and that led to Joe’s preferred subject matter, abstract photography.  Joe was very patient with me, spending lots of time describing how lines, shapes, colors, textures and perspective all affect the way that we perceive a scene.  He spent a great deal of time explaining how Dave Carter, Joe’s longtime friend whom I met briefly before he passed away, would apply the psychological implications of visual design to his critiques of images.  Joe encouraged me to explore design-based, rather than subject-based, photography in a Portfolio Project for NVPS, for which I decided to work with the stained glass windows in Joe’s studio, but took all of the photographs in InfraRed using my converted Canon 10D.  The lack of color forced me to concentrate on the lines, tones and textures of the glass, however with the IR camera I got unexpected (for me) results.  Blues became translucent and bright, while reds became opaque and dark, frequently pure black.

All of this helped me to develop not only an appreciation of abstracts, but a greater appreciation of images in general.  It greatly improved my ability to abstract an image into its component shapes, which has improved my visual design.  I now find that I am framing images based on principles of visual design, even when I am shooting sporting events.

Joseph Miller

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What can I say about Joe that hasn’t already been said?  Joe is my photographic mentor and good friend, founding member of the Northern Virginia Alliance of Camera Clubs, frequent speaker at local camera clubs, preacher of the 4C’s (Composition, Craftsmanship, Creativity and Communication) and Visual Communication, and promoter of the abstract photograph.

Joe has contributed more to the development of photography in the Northern Virginia region than any other individual.  In 1997 NVACC published its first Directory of Speakers and Judges, and currently maintains that directory for use by member clubs and the general public.  Joe also began providing a seminar for those who are interested in becoming a camera club judge, to increase the pool of people who could be chosen for each competition.  In the early 2000s, Joe began publishing photography booklets through NVACC for a small fee.  All of those booklets are available for download on the NVACC website now.

Two years ago Joe started an Annual Abstract Photography Exhibition and has worked tirelessly to make it successful, year after year.  He just began accepting entries for the exhibit this past weekend.

If you ever get an opportunity to attend one of Joe’s classes, seminars or presentations, I strongly suggest that you take advantage of it.