View Full Version : abstract expressionist photographers

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10-25-2007, 01:59 AM
Who was/are abstract expressionist photographers. Can you list any?


10-25-2007, 02:29 AM
I would guess that to be Siskind and/or Frederick Sommer. Among others, I'm sure. (for reasons that I'm guessing would be fairly obvious)

jd callow
10-25-2007, 02:30 AM
To my knowledge there weren't any in the original group and I've never heard or read of any that followed. The original group of artists were mostly painters or atleast started out as painters.

10-25-2007, 05:18 AM
Siskind, yes, I know that there must be others.

10-25-2007, 05:48 AM
I think that 'artistic thought' about photography - even though it was respected at the time - was such that it would preclude there from being any 'school' of abstract expressionism in photography- except to consider those, in retrospect, like siskind. Siskind and a handful of others wanted to emulate it - but a photograph could never, and by any rigid definition, CAN never be 'abstract expressionist' insofar as it was much more about he isolating or capturing of GESTURE, by the canvas. Any photograph which can capture a given 'gesture' or movement requires it's author to remain perfectly still to record it (i.e. camera on a tripod, etc) - and any photographer attempting to record gesture via the imprinting of light on the negative - would, in most cases, only manage to capture a blurry morass on the negative. I'd assume it just wouldn't fly - to most contemporaries of the movement. Not without using paint or some other 'hard worked' medium. Just a thought.

Struan Gray
10-25-2007, 08:19 AM
As I understand it, Siskind was an integral part of the abstract expressionist movement. He exhibited alongside the painters, and there are examples of influence going both ways.

Fredrick Sommer's work always reminds me of earlier art movements. His Arizona landscapes for example are similar in feel to early Mondrian paintings. The chicken bits and the soot pictures are abstract, and expressionist in the German school sense, but for me he is too much cerebral and too little emotional to fit with the New York gang. (I love his work though).

Ralph Eugene Meatyard's landscapes, Zen twigs, light-on-water and sound-and-motion series were all to a greater or lesser extent influenced by abstract expressionism.

Many of Lee Friedlander's more recent landscapes feel very abstract expressionist to me. They are suffused with his own syncopated sense of composition, and retain a very photographic sense of depth, but all the same I get the same sense of frenetic restraint when I stand in front of them that I do from painters like Pollock and Motherwell.

Ray Metzker's work is - for me - a direct descendent of the Siskind/Callahan school, and his book 'Landscapes' is a wonderful example of an abstract expressionist eye applied via a camera.

You can probably guess from that list that I personally feel the strongest connections to the line-based abstract expressionists, and less so to the colour field painters. However, Rothko has undoubtedly bequeathed an acceptibility to large numinous colour prints that has benefited photographers like Richard Misrach, Ben Moon, and the Joel Meyrowitz of Cape Light. There are any number of less famous contemporary photographers who use a similar subtly glowing palette to show their take on the world. For that matter, I have a growing link list of photographers who are making drip paintings with the camera, including myself (see attachment). Barnet Newman's 'zip' paintings opened the door for very many centered-line compositions.

The abstract expressionists' compositional tools and their ways of organising space and tones on the canvas have been very influential to me. In art history the conventional wisdom is that abstract expressionism boxed itself in and died a noisy death down it's own back alleyway. My own feeling is that it was accepted and exalted so early that it quickly became encapsulated and packaged as a ready-made artistic success, making it very hard to develop the movement's ideas without being accused of plagiarism or unoriginality. Perhaps now enough time has passed for that accusation to be less daunting.

Jim Chinn
10-25-2007, 08:29 AM
Siskind was part of the ab ex New York gang in the late 40s and 50s. He was good friends with Franz Kline and Motherwell and hung out at the Cedar Tavern from time to time. After Kline's death from heart disease, Siskind did a series of images (wall abstracts) as an homage to his friend. As pointed out in the previos post, Siskind was considered an equal to the painters and shared gallery space on the same walls. (although I doubt his prints shared the same amounts on the price tags)

Harry Calahan did a lot of experimenting with camera movement, multiple exposures both b&w and color. I don't know how much he was influenced by the ab exr's, but it was a time of stretching the boundries of all art, sort of an anti F64 in photography.

10-25-2007, 08:55 AM
Yeah - Metzker! That would be a classic example. Wish I thought of that. Not sure what his affiliations would have been, if any, though - I think he was around MUCH later - like late 60s/early 70s.

Struan Gray
10-25-2007, 09:01 AM
I *think* Metzker studied with Siskind at Rhode Island, but I can't remember where I read that, and I can't check it for a couple of days.

Edit: google says it was while Callahan and Siskind were at Chicago.

10-25-2007, 10:05 AM
I have no formal training in art history and so don't really know my ass from my elbow on this, but a series I've been working on (http://flickr.com/photos/nicolai_g/sets/693512/) could possibly be considered abstract expressionist. (Or maybe abstract impressionist, or im- or ex- without the "abstract" prefix, or maybe just mush. I'll leave that to you.)

10-25-2007, 02:21 PM
Nicolai, I like the work you are doing. If I was going to compare it to an art movement I would say it looks impressionist.

10-25-2007, 02:26 PM
How about Robert Rauschenberg himself. I like his photograhy though it is more abstract seeing than presenting.

A 50s photographer that did beautiful swirling abstract work with lights in water was Ralph Eugene Meatyard. Used a Rollei.

10-25-2007, 03:37 PM
Abstract Expressionism did not die on the vine in the 50's and 60's as many art historian like to tell us. My champion, of the group, was Robert Motherwell. I was creating texture and color based images that my college prof told me were "nothing of worth." Then I walked into a museum and saw "Ellegy to the Spanish Republic" by Motherwell. His example confirmed to me, I was on to something. His example inspires my work to this day. And Motherwell was cranking out fantastic work right up until his death in 1991. As he said in the PBS documentary on his life, "The Citadel has not fallen." I have attached one of my "nothing of worth" abstractions.


Bob Carnie
10-25-2007, 04:22 PM
I think a lot of Man Rays work would fall into this catagorey.

Bruce Osgood
10-25-2007, 05:57 PM
I may be stepping in over my head here but I do not see how a camera/photographer can 'abstract' anything. At most the camera can 'isolate' but not take apart and put together in
another way as seems to be meant by abstract.

The pictures we see in the APUG galleries that are called abstract seem really to be a single, isolated segment of a larger subject.

I know painters and writers can abstract but can the photographer/artist?

10-25-2007, 08:29 PM
hi bruce

strangely enough, i think that most photographs are an abstraction of one
sort or another. black and white images convert whatever imagery into
something devoid of colors, like most people see -
( and i would guess that people's brain interpret colors differently as well )
dof, perspective, lens choice, film, paper, processing and printing techniques ( et C. )
distort reality ... few photographs are pure form and line and color, like
an abstract expressionist painting,
black and white, line and form (isolating something from the original context)
like a siskind photograph.

... but to me at least, rearranging reality, and putting it on a piece of paper
seems to me to be more abstract, than "realism" ...
but kind of like the "cut up poetry" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cut-up_technique) tristan tzara was doing as a dadaist, or surrealist ...


great stuff!


10-25-2007, 08:31 PM
I don't know how much or if at all Brett Weston was influenced by the Abstract Expressionists, but I find in his work many compositional similarities to both Motherwell and Kline. This is one of the main reasons I have always liked his work. I am drawn to Brett's work more than that of his father's, who I also like very much.
Motherwell and Kline were a couple of my artistic heroes when I was young art student many years ago.


10-25-2007, 10:13 PM
I fully agree with John on a camera as an 'abtracting device' - a photograph ALWAYS removes something from it's original context, IMO. However - I think that "abstract expressionism" is a bit different than this in intent. To suggest otherwise would, IMO, be a misunderstanding of it. The word "abstract" is an adverb of "expressionism". So - the idea is about "isolating gestures" the way I see it at least.

10-25-2007, 10:16 PM
Also - I found out i'd misspoke on Ray K. (metzger) - he was actually much earlier than I thought. I think I was thinking of his 'mathematics' series. Though I can't seem to find a repro online.Check your copies of Jonathan Green's American Photography to see it - if anyone's got it (excellent intro book!)

10-25-2007, 10:59 PM
I don't know how much or if at all Brett Weston was influenced by the Abstract Expressionists, but I find in his work many compositional similarities to both Motherwell and Kline. This is one of the main reasons I have always liked his work. I am drawn to Brett's work more than that of his father's, who I also like very much.

I agree with Gene, that's why I started this thread, in one of my older magazines, which I can't seem to find right now, Brett Weston was described as an Abstract Expressionist. I have only seen that reference once and was interested in seeing if any other photographers had gained that description.

I came across a new book, to me, on Edward Weston, that is a completely new light on the man and his family background. It's called Edward Weston: A Photographer's Love of Life. It's really heavy, very well printed and the text is fantastic with red references in quotes from the Daybooks. This is a rather large book, heavy to hold but loaded with photographs I haven't seen before.