Moving from the abstract to the concrete

I have raised my kids within the Montessori system of education which believes in the natural progression of learning that moves from the concrete to abstract. This concept is defined by the children first working with physical objects like wooden blocks and beads that represent abstract concepts like the number system and mathematical equations.

It occurred to me recently that photography works in the reverse.

As photographers we capture the abstract and make it concrete. We photograph a moment in time, an idea and try to communicate that concept to our audience. Back in the day of film and paper we could capture the interplay of light and dark and make it real through the magic of chemicals and silver halide crystals. Now our images are created using a sensor to record pixels. These organized dots are then edited and uploaded to an abstract concept called the internet. Our images live in the ether(net), not in our concrete lives.

Modern day photographers (those that take their photos with mobil and DSLR cameras alike) seem to create in an abstract vacuum. Honestly this is not a place I’m comfortable with, I never have been. When digital photography came onto the scene 15 years ago, I lost my interest in photography. I could visualize a world where I would spend my days in front of a computer screen rather than a darkroom and I wasn’t interested. That future is here and while I have a darkroom in my basement I spend too much time in front of a computer screen. I crave the days when there was a concrete component to photography.

Luckily there is a solution to this problem.

Recently Boris invited everyone in the Stuck in Plastic community to join us in our annual book exchange. So far nine intrepid souls have signed up including all the members of the SiP Collective. The purpose of this post is to encourage everyone to sign up for this fun event.

Why?

Because the experience you will receive by organizing your images into a cohesive and concrete item is invaluable.

For many of us, when we post to a social media platform it’s an image that will be judged in a nano second and not on its own merits. It will not be seen in the context of other images; additional meanings will not be gained by juxtaposition; an under lying concept will not be understood through several images. Nor will the viewer be able to appreciate the subtleties you have spent much time and thought on creating in that quick glimpse they get before moving onto the next image. These limitations are simply the nature of the internet sharing beast. By creating a book (either for public or private viewing) we are given a chance to place are images in a new context that can allow a better understanding of our own work. We can look at our work with fresh eyes. We can look at our work through the eyes of the audience knowing they will be studying these images in detail. We want to reward them for their effort with a series of images that creates a deeper meaning.

This is not an easy task, but the effort will help you to understand your own work and your own motives . It doesn’t matter if you’re creating work for laughs, for personal expression or recreating your favorite movie in your own image. The ‘why?’ is not important, the knowing is.

The last few months I’ve been moving my own work from the abstract to the concrete. I’ve been working towards creating a series of thematic books as well as learning how to combine photography with encaustic techniques. With each of these lines of inquiry I have to consider my audience. What do I want the audience to see, feel, and understand? How do I want them to react? What am I trying to say with my work? When you move an image from the abstract to the concrete all of these questions take on even greater importance. I’m not working with hundred of photos I’m working with a handful. Each image takes on greater importance. Each image needs to be considered not only on its own technical merits, but how it works with in the series and how the audience will react.

It doesn’t matter if you see yourself as an artist, as a creative or as a fun loving amateur – no matter how you view your creative endeavors this is a process that I think you will enjoy. It’s a process you will learn from, and more importantly, it will give you a sense of accomplishment. There’s nothing like seeing your work in a form that’s concrete…not simply an image on your social media feed…to give you a deep sense of accomplishment.

You will experience a feeling of pride that no amount of likes and comments on a social media post will ever be able to surpass.

~ Shelly

If my ramblings resonate with you, I encourage you to join our 2016 photo book exchange. The benefits to your creative growth will surpass your modest investment. Trust me. 

Here is one potential idea for my 2016 book. What would you do?

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thereeljames
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Great post, Shelly! I too would encourage anyone here to join the book exchange. Last year was my first one and it was great to compile my photos into something tangible and swap them with other toy photographers. I even ordered a few books to give to family for the holidays, and when I visited last I spotted it on display in one of their houses. Seeing my work in physical form in someone else’s house was actually a pretty eye-opening experience, and made me immensely proud of my work. Now that I’ve done the exchange, I’m more confident in… Read more »

MaggieGem
Member

Wow, sounds awesome… great choices Shelley, water and boats are a natural fit!

2016 has been my least active in 10 years! I think I’d like to do a “Toy Photography” retrospective… think that would fly?

Maëlick (aka Reiterlied)
Member

9 doesn’t seem much compared to the number of people that seemed interested in the comments of the previous blog post. Now I’m afraid I did something wrong when filling the Google Form. Can I get a confirmation I’m already registered?