Hands-on Workshop: Thinking Abstract

Last night I attended the North Shore Photographic Society’s workshop on abstract photography. The workshop was presented by husband and wife team, Russ and Wendy Kwan. We had been requested to bring in 1-3 depictions of “love” and “hate” without including any recognizable subject matter.

We were then divided up into groups and were forbidden to touch or discuss our own photos, however we could handle and talk about our fellow group members’ photos. We then mixed the photos up and proceeded to divide them as we thought into “love”, “hate” and “don’t know” piles. This process involved quite a bit of discussion as we had to justify our opinions to each other and I found this quite an enlightening process.

Once we had done this, we then had to arrange each pile in order of least representational to most representational. Once this was completed we rotated through the groups with the instructors to view the other photographs and offer our opinions and input. It was interesting to observe the various  groups’ connotations of love and hate. At this stage, the photographers who had photographs in the “don’t know” piles were invited to offer explanations as to their thinking and it was interesting to see that most of the “don’t know” photographs had not followed the classic depictions of love and hate. They were representative of more subtle connotations. One of my photographs of hate landed in my group’s “don’t know” pile. It is an image of frost on a windscreen, taken from inside the car. The ice had formed very delicate patterns that consisted of striations, curves and sharp points. To me hate can take on many different forms. One the one hand you have classic hate, for example of two warring nations, and on the other you have the cloaked hate of a “friend” who, to your face is friendly towards you, but will stab you in the back when you look away. The ice on the windscreen represented this kind of hate to me – the duality of the soft curves terminating into the sharp barbs. Russ, the instructor, then mentioned that it is these types of photographs that draw one in to look closer. With abstract you should not “get it” straight away, you need to work at it. What means one thing to one person will mean something entirely different to another.

"Hate" depicted by ice on a windscreen

“Hate” depicted by ice on a windscreen

The workshop was concluded with a screening of Russ and Wendy’s own work which was outstanding. Russ uses a motif of the movement of the sun throughout his work and he did not reveal how he made his images, but did mention that he did not use any big stopper filters. I’m thinking it might be some kind of pinhole photography if he is using a long exposure during the day for a few hours. Wendy’s work was extremely interesting. She showed us a series she had documented when a certain housing project went under demolition in Vancouver in the 1990’s. She used a Holga camera to make multiple exposures of the demolition period which spanned about a year and her images are very emotional, very layered and full of meaning, as opposed to the straight documentary she had originally started off with when she began the project.

I have a better appreciation of abstract photography now, even though the workshop just barely scratched the surface. It was just enough to whet the appetite to experiment, which is a good thing!


New Mythographs: The Photography of Russel Kwan and Wendy Kwan [online]. Available from http://russelandwendykwan-photographyandclasses.com/pages/rwpMainframeCourses.html . [Accessed 20 January, 2015]


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