I didn't used to believe in abstraction per se, I used to think that all images were derived or extracted from something, therefore they couldn't really qualify as abstractions. Then the notion struck me that abstraction meant that an image that has been separated from its source or context becomes abstracted. The problem that really struck me though was that neither of these descriptions seemed to fit my practices as a photographer. Below I will explore abstraction in a little more detail and attempt to place this within the framework of contemporary photography.
There is an argument that by its nature photography is an abstract art. The argument runs because a photograph is taken as a singular frame out of time and geopolitical space that it abstracts (and by extension extrapolates) its content and meaning. Counter to this would be an argument that photography distils the essence of context by capturing and distilling it in a single moment. There are, in media terms, often negative connotations to the notion of abstraction. For example in paparazzi photography the person in the photograph is often taken out of context, abstracted. In a particular context the photograph can be made to evoke a meaning that is an imposition on both content and context.
With this in mind I want to flash back to 2010 when I first began to become interested again in photography. From the outset part of my practice was to create macro shots of certain patterns, colours and textures generally derived from an urban setting. It wasn't my intention however to create abstract images. In an early series called 'Rising River' for example, I attempted to create a set of pictures that detailed the materiality of water and its effects on things. What I wanted was in fact the opposite of abstraction, in so much as I wanted to put these patterns and textures back within a broader framework. There is of course a thin line between wanting a broader context and imposing meaning as discussed above with paparazzi photography.
One of the things that consistently interested me during those early trysts was to photograph the residue of events, like for example, if you fill a bath with dirty water and let out the water, the tide mark and grit would be the residue of a unique event, thats what I was interested in capturing. Almost like the work of an archaeologist who is always working after the event yet always working toward describing it. Later I would take this methodology and attempt to re-think my relationship to abstraction and photography. By 2011 I was working on a series entitled 'Gathering in the Wilderness'. The images were broadly based around the 'occupy' movement where groups had set up tents and temporary structures to protest against the economic crisis sweeping across Europe.
The problem was at first I didn't know how to photograph it. So I went back to the camp a few times, got to know some of those involved, developed empathies and relationships. Then it struck me that in order to capture this as a part of my own practices, to feel that I had done it with honesty, I would need a different approach than a pseudo documentary style. Many of these peoples lives had been abstracted, careers swept to one side by the new economic realities. So I went back to my approach of materiality- this is how they were living now, this is the residue. So I began to photograph the tents, a pile of clothes on a plastic chair, kept away from the ground, a sweeping brush, tiny details. It was with this series and since, that the reality of abstraction has become more and more important to me to discuss and photograph. I didn't used to believe in abstraction, but now I realise it is often imposed upon on or used against us, that its residue is often all that remains.