Channeling Gerhard Richter


Last fall, while I was taking my Photo 101 class, I had a discussion with the professor about the meaning of the word “abstract”. The assignment in question was to present an “abstraction”, as the professor described it. My mind went immediately to Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman, and Franz Kline and Gerhard Richter, all abstract expressionists whose art emanates, in a gross simplification, from images that are nothing more than images–there is no attempt to be representational. Many of the images I took for this assignment went that route, and there were a couple that were strongly inspired by Newman, even though I am not the biggest fan.

The images were, categorically, panned. Based on our differing definitions of abstract.

Abstract can also mean to remove or separate (dentists abstract teeth, for example), and what the professor was looking for was detail–line and form–that were somehow decontextualized. So a car’s fender might count. Recognizable immediately as a fender, but abstracted from the rest of the car.

Now that the grading portion of Photo 101 is behind me, and all I have left is the practical and theoretical knowledge I gained from it, I can take whatever abstract shots I want to. The above shot came from a recent photo walk in the Wissahickon, and I think it strongly evokes some of Gerhard Richter’s painting. Above I defined Richter as an abstract expressionist, but that was really just for ease of the sentence. His work actually covers a wide array of styles, but his abstraction is where I first got to know him, and how in my mind I define him. That would probably piss him off. Oh well. I am a fan of Richter, I think, for the same reason I’m not a fan of Newman: Newman’s images, especially the “zip” images for which he is most well-known, are too simplistic. They sure make their statement about image and color, but I find that, for me, they quickly move on. Richter’s work, on the other hand, can be quite intricate, with layers and layers of work and texture and color revealing themselves more and more the more the image is looked into.

The color intensity of this image has been jerked around quite a bit, but reportage was not what I was shooting for; rather, representation gave way to artistic interpretation, and the result is what I think is a very rich image, and one I am very pleased with. Every once in a while, I will see or make an image that seems to have potential in it for a more substantial direction of work, and this might be one.

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