I have not developed much of an appreciation for 20th Century Abstract Expressionism, no matter how many times I have stood in front of a canvas the size of a wall with a couple of colors on it, a bunch of dots or spatters, or something that appears to be one frame out of a action-adventure movie when some innocent bystander gets his head blown up for shock-effect. Anarchy, raw emotion, and subjectivity do not come easily to Norwegian-Americans, reared in a Baptist tradition. What would possess me to create a book of abstract photos?
The high desert is ideal country for getting lost in visual images. Whether looking at the panoramic vistas, or kneeling to see the tiniest wild flower bloom, space and size come in an infinite range of perspectives. Colors come in spectrums of hues in blue tones, red tones, and greens tones. Unlike a rainbow, these colors are in high contrast from the foliage to the rock cliffs to the sky. Furthermore, the light and shadows can be the subtly of drifting clouds to the razor sharp edge of an eroding mesa forming blinding bright triangles on one side, and pupil contracting darkness on the other. It is not much of a leap, in the desert, to go from a landscape image to Georgia Okeefe painting to a wall sized canvas with lines of color: sage, sandstone red, and blue. Maybe the element of abstraction, which I like, is the sense of being timeless and universal.
I will admit that my inspiration for creativity is often viewing someone else’s efforts. On our trip, we happened to view an exhibit by Leo Villereal at the Nevada Museum of Art, in Reno. Mr. Villereal designs abstract images using LED lights and computer programs, which create ever changing loops of light combinations. We spent a good amount of time absorbing ourselves in these changes of color. How often do we spend less than a minute viewing a Botticelli or Degas painting because the images are familiar and easily recognizable, without thought that these paintings may have taken months to construct? We viewed the light panels from across the gallery as well as from within inches, such that the changing light colors completely filled our visual field. Then we headed on our RV trip to the Colorado Plateau.
I had not planned to create a book of abstract photo, but then one of my photos from Upper Antelope Canyon came out completely distorted. I began looking back at other “failures” from the trip and easily found a dozen other photos which had become abstractions rather than travel album images. Some of these distortions occurred because of movement, while the vehicle was moving or we were hiking or on horseback. Others were distorted because of rainstorms. Others were because I was trying to focus on a small element, such as the desert varnish on a cliff wall or the cracking of dried mud in the Painted Desert. Finally, i-Photo “enhanced” darker photos is really weird ways. Linda usually said, “Delete that one”, while I though, “Hmmm, there’s something there.”
Naming The Abstract
Often, during our tours, guides or other travelers gave “names” to different shapes of the rock. I think that this is an expression of our brain’s desire to see the familiar and whole in the unfamiliar. I grew tired of hearing the suggestion that this formation looked like cartoon characters, presidents, movie stars, et al. In our western culture, these images are usually self- or person-oriented. The names given, generally, express something about the person naming them, which in my elitist way I see as rather shallow or trivial. Also, once someone labels something you have difficulty seeing it as something different.
On the other hand, some shapes, captured from specific vantage points are difficult to not see as a familiar object, even when you try to not see the shape in the rock.