The Vemödalen Project: Geometry, Shapes, and Abstraction

As a general rule, I prefer not to start these little missives off with other people’s words, but all rules have exceptions. Henri Cartier-Bresson said “The only joy in photography is geometry. All the rest is sentiment.” He was, if I understand correctly, talking about subtle interactions of form and composition that provide structure and order to photographs. This complex, delicate concept was practiced, if not explained, by other well-known photographers of the 1920s-1950s, perhaps none more effectively than Andre Kertesz; look at his “Fork” or “Chez Mondrian” for proof.

In my own explorations, I have found these thoughts to be useful in guiding my own approach. Developing such vision as the Old Masters is frankly out of reach for the vast majority, and I have no pretensions to it, but their influence is certainly felt. As part of my Vemödalen Project, I have been exploring questions of geometry, but in a very much simplified and somewhat abstracted fashion. Faintly (very faintly) echoing Kertesz’s studies of mundane objects, I have been experimenting with tight compositions of individual or small groups of objects, trying to get the most out of subjects that may be of little intrinsic interest.

This is an illuminating exercise. Removing most of the things photographers are usually attracted to – interesting subjects, perfect light, and such – forces one to look at the most basic elements of a scene and work to extract whatever can be found in the most efficient possible manner. It’s hard, but then the only things worth doing usually are. In some cases, this lends itself to authentic representation, with the subject readily identifiable within the photo; in others, abstraction at some level offers greater opportunities. But in all cases, geometry is key. My results thus far are very graphical, and focus on constructing (and sometimes repeating) simple shapes, often with relatively high contrast.

These photos are just a few recent shots taken with this conceptual approach in mind. Enjoy.