Changing My Ways:
I always found a quasi-direct correlation between how physically free and uninhibited I felt to my flow of creative freedom. Being bogged down by equipment or committed to one location due to my tripod being setup often stifled my creativity. After years of shooting with the heavy full frame Canon system, lugging up mountains two camera bodies, three lenses and a tripod, it was time to say enough! Don’t get me wrong, my Canon was a workhorse and the lenses performed beautifully. However, I felt that the time was right to go back to my early days when I was travelling with a small camera that could fit into my day pack and wander, just wander and be enchanted again by little (or big) details I saw along the way. The details that when having my heavy gear on my back would make me think twice about pulling out my camera, or even consider taking it with me!
I started asking myself: what does my art really need? Is it a bigger mega pixel count so I can print images to fit the siding of a NY skyscraper (which by the way never happened, I did have my images displayed on billboards once across Canada, digital billboards, to my surprise the resolution required was that of an entry level point and shoot!) or is it a deeper and more creative outlook that a smaller camera can assist and be my ‘tool’ in conveying my vision. So…my camera bag is much lighter these days as I have switched to the Fuji mirrorless system and I LOVE it!
In the last workshop I was teaching in NY I took my students to the Oculus building. A stunning and spectacular structure designed by Spanish engineer and architect Santiago Calatrava. The building is located just near World Trade Center One and serves as a main train and subway station as well as a high-end shopping mall. Needless to say, the area was bustling with people. The clean white lines and magnitude of the structure are immensely striking so as a photographer, it’s hard not to want to capture that grandeur of the scene. However, due to the conditions, it was nearly impossible to get a clean shot without people in the frame. Additionally, being NY with the density of construction, the adjacent buildings infringed on the Oculus’ ‘breathing’ space so a clean shot of the structure from the outside was certainly out of the question. It was then that I thought to myself, adapt. If you can’t get the shot you want, try moving out of your comfort zone to attempt something different. For me that would be abstract photography. I took this initially challenging opportunity and turned it into a learning one. Instead of looking at the obvious, we started looking up and selectively, to frame our viewfinder with shapes and lines. I instructed my students to see reality in geometric forms as the stage and the main actor as light.
My photography forte is Architectural Photography, namely bridges. I have an extensive portfolio and awards from years of photographing this subject matter. The world of abstract architectural photography was always something I admired but shied away from. Why is all this so important to my downsizing of gear? I believe that this new lightness of not having to lug around a heavy camera bag and gear is what enabled this versatility and agility. Not just physical, but most importantly, creatively.
A few tips on how to hone your skills when trying to master abstract architectural photography by seeing Shapes, Lines and Light:
1. Be cognisant of the edges of your frame. Are they supposed to lead you in or draw you out? Dodge and burn your edges to convey your vision. Use light as leading lines. The eye always goes to the bright parts of the image, if the periphery of the image is just playing a ‘supporting role’, then show that with the use of darker tones and bring the viewer’s eye with brighter tones to where you as the visionary, want to direct it. The use of gradient lighting also helps in creating a sense of depth, creating a tunnel like feel that draws you in and overcomes the cameras limitation of depicting a two-dimensional image and transforming it into a spatial three-dimensional scene.
2. Simplicity. Less is More. Abstract photography is analogous to poetry. Say what you have to say in the most minimal way. In this case, context is not your friend. The beauty and intrigue of abstract photography is in what it doesn’t say as opposed to what it does. Leave your viewers curious about what it is they see. Leave room for various interpretations and discovery.
3. Notice the light, what shadow is it casting? Does that shadow create a shape? Use the different shapes and accentuate their relationship to one another with tones and contrast.
4. Juxtapose shapes to create tension and interest. Repetition is pleasing to the eye, but a break in the repetition is intriguing to the mind. Notice the different geometric shapes of squares that are introduced in the bottom left in juxtaposition to the wavy and vertical lines of the structure.
5. Once in the digital darkroom, be adventurous, rotate, flip, duplicate or do anything you feel will enhance the statement of your image. The same one image can have multiple interpretations and versions. Let your imagination and creativity run wild!
6. Vision – Know what it is you want to celebrate.
In this series I was fascinated with lines, shapes and light, that was my vision. However, in the image below I wanted to take it further. I wanted to express a vision of the area, the World Trade Center and pay homage to the Twin Towers. I used light to differentiate the two center beams and make them stand out as a tribute to the towers that are no longer there.
To see more of Sharon Tenenbaum’s work or to join her upcoming NY Architectural Photography Workshop go to https://www.sharontenenbaum.com/