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Abstract Photography

Abstract photography, also sometimes known as experimental photography, is the art of creating a visual effect with an image that has no immediate attachment to reality, by using processes like focusing, framing, or retouching and editing the photograph in post-processing. For example, an abstract picture can sometimes isolate a fragment of an ordinary image to remove it from its original context and give it a surrealist edge. It can also involve playing with blurring, shadows or lighting, textures or unexpected forms. The image is often created with traditional photographic material (analog or digital cameras, dark room, computer). However, artists can also manipulate and alter the film in order to achieve the desired effect.

The first images known as “abstract photographs" appeared shortly after the invention of photography in the 1830s. In 1842, John William Draper created a new type of images with a spectroscope. This machine dispersed light beams and produced a phenomenon that was previously invisible to the eye. The negatives he produced had nothing in common with the works of other photographers, and they opened the way for innovative photographic works. Draper perceived these images as a scientific discovery, not as artworks, but today his method is widely acclaimed by critics for its inherent originality.

In England, Anna Atkins was also a pioneer of abstract photography; she was the first one to place dry algae on cyanotype paper. This scientific experiment improved photographic techniques by creating unique blue and white images. Moreover, the discovery of X-ray and radioactivity in 1896 provoked a fascination for the invisible and many photographers were immediately drawn to these phenomena. French photographer Louis Darget attempted to capture mental processes by pressing unexposed plates to the foreheads of his and trying to get them to project images from their minds onto the plates. He carried out thousands of similar experiments.

It was only during the 20th century that abstract photography truly became recognised as an artistic practice. Surrealism and cubism started replacing impressionism, especially after the Salon d'Automne in 1903 in Paris. This event highlighted new talents like Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp… Ten years later, in New York, Wassily Kandinsky, Mondrian, Braque and Delaunay shocked audiences. The freedom coming from abstract art inspired some of the greatest photographers to break the rules.

Erwin Quedenfeldt exhibited the first abstract photographs in Cologne in 1914. From 1920 to 1930, Europe became the epicenters of conceptual photography with artists such as Jaroslav Rossler, Josef Sudeck, and Rössler exploring abstraction.

Post-processing became more central to photographic works in the 60s and the 70s, with artists like Josef Newman. Eventually, the growing popularity of computers in the 90s and the 2000s opened up infinite possibilities for creating original work. Some contemporary photographers like Peter Klasen, Dominic Harris, or Nicolas Dubreuille combine photography with other mediums.

Find them all on Artsper with our unique selection of abstract photographs.

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