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Friday, November 7

Just how "minimalist" can one go?

I mentioned in an earlier post that I'm trying to get away from "representational" photography towards something more creative or artistic. It's going to take a wee while to make the switch as I've been used to looking for a particular type of photograph for so long.

Part of the aim of less representational photography is to distill the image down to the bare number of elements necessary for it to seem successful to me. Of course, that might mean that it looks horrible to other people but I can only please myself with this idea.

I got a flavour of what this might involve last week when I was driving through Dundee and saw what looked like a nice sky reflection in a wet path. It was next to a busy road and there weren't any parking spaces available so I had to leave the car in a side street and have a brisk walk in the light rain. 

I'd put the 24mm Zuiko on the OM2 thinking this would be the best focal length and had Silvermax rated at 50 ISO in the camera. When I got there, the 24mm turned out to be on the wide side although I suppose, with hindsight, I should have gone in at path level and got the white line nice and big in the foreground - that would have eliminated much of the distracting background.

I could also have walked back to the car for the 50mm. Anyway, I did neither (photographing in the rain seems to wash away my creativity and determination in equal amounts) and I ended up with the pic above. It's a bit of a mess really and not at all like I imagined it might turn out when I was driving past.

So I opened it in Lightroom and made the crop at the top of the post which, it turns out, I much prefer. It's stark and minimalist but I reckon it would look good nicely mounted and in a black frame. In fact, here's pretty much how it would appear on a wall:

What I like about it are the light-coloured speckles in the asphalt. But is an image like this TOO minimalist? A white painted line on a path? I was pondering this yesterday and came to the conclusion that if I like it then it's not too minimalist for my taste and that's all I can go by. I can hear some readers shouting, "Get a grip, Robbins!" but the great thing about the internet is I can't hear you. Haha! I'm sitting here listening to Agnes Obel as I type and that would drown out anything you might be trying to say even if I could sort of hear you.

Further ponderings - this is always dangerous ground for me - got me thinking that it might be a nice idea to do a wee project on road markings. I haven't done a Google search as I don't want to be influenced by what others might have done but I'll bet this kind of thing is ground that was broken about 30 or 40 years ago. Continuing in my slightly rebellious manner, though, who cares? No one has photographed the roads I pass along, so there.

In best Blue Peter tradition, here's another one I made earlier that I wrote about in this post:

I can see how a series of pictures along this theme might fit nicely together and there's no shortage of subject matter - it's just a case of finding something interesting at ground level and then working it into a pleasing composition.

Before embarking on this project, however, I have to get some suitable film. Hand-holding Silvermax rated at 50 ISO at this time of the year on the same latitude as Moscow is a nightmare. As I found out in an earlier post, Sunny f16 up here really equates to Sunny f5.6-f8 at this time of year. Working through the various light levels means I'd likely be shooting these images at about 1/30th at f2.8 and that's no good.

I want front to back sharpness and something that will ward off camera shake so I've just ordered some Tmax 400 that should give me 1/60th at f5.6. That might still be too little so a wee push to 800 ISO may be called for. Of course, if I hadn't broken my Rolleiflex SL66E (I've had a quote for fixing it that isn't too bad so I'll be sending it off soon) I might have considered using it for the project. It has a 45 degree prism finder which would be fine for pointing down at the ground in a way that a waist level finder wouldn't.

However, unlike a Hasselblad, for instance, the SL66E isn't too conducive to hand-holding and I'll be buggered if I'm going to start trying to set a tripod up at the side of a busy road! Another option would be to get a battered but functional prism finder for my Rollei TLR - now that would be fun and is a very appealing idea.

So, I'm off for a final ponder to see how I'm going to tackle this project. I'll start off using the Tmax in the OM2 and see how it goes. If a cheap prism finder for the TLR catches my eye, I might be tempted. 


Nick Jardine said...

I don't think that you can get too minimalist - you should go for it.

My first thought about your project and exposure conundrum would be to try out a flash - especially with the lower half of the frame nearer to the ground and focal point and let the background under expose.

You might get some nice reflections with the road paint and cats eyes or rain puddles.

The tarmac looks great, like a strange starry sky. Why not do a few 'straight down shots' and present them alongside some 'straight uo shots' ?

Include just sky, or put some telegraph wires in there, or a lamp post. Long exposure on the sky - it becomes a veil of grey or white.

The other thing I thought about were angles - mixing the signage vertically and horizontally.

Remember, images are not just about one image per frame - double exposures, triptychs, multi image collages are all part of the presentation style you could experiment with.

Lastly, do a google image search for 'Abstract Black and White Photography' and you'll be pleasantly surprised by some results. Granted many images aren't abstract, they're entirely representational, but some are just beautiful shapes that have no obvious form.

imagesfrugales said...

Hi Bruce, nothing wrong with that, abstract photography can be very rewardinging. One of the titans was Robert Häusser and I'm surely influenced by his photography. And like you I'm already happy if I should be the only one who likes my pictures. Imho that's the most important point to create something else than the often boring mainstream. The smallest step ahead is a big step ahead.

I hope you may excuse my vanity and allow me to show a link to a small abstract album by me.

Best - Reinhold

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks for the link, Reinhold. I love what you're doing - makes me more determined than ever to go with my instincts on this.

skellum said...

Don't worry Bruce, you're just channelling your inner Ralph Gibson. He certainly isn't scared of minimal.

MartyNL said...

It's a nice idea to explore.

It's often said that "Less is more." and "It's not what you include but what you exclude from the frame."

I thought I would share a link to someone who's images move me and are about as abstract as you can get.

Enjoy the images which are also downloadable by the way and the rest of the site including Lenswork interviews.

MartyNL said...

Sorry forgot the link!