Minimalism

Sunset Over the Front Range Denver, Colorado, 2015

Sunset Over the Front Range
Denver, Colorado, 2015

A lot of the photographers whose work I admire seem to get labeled with the appellation “minimalist.”  While I have a working sense of what minimalism in photography is, I was curious if there was a formal definition or approach.  After doing a little looking online, it turns out there doesn’t really seem to be a consensus, so I’ll go with the definition set forth in my favorite non-authoritative source of knowledge, Wikipedia – “movements in various forms of art and design… where the work is set out to expose the essence, essentials or identity of a subject through eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts.”

Minimalism causes a bit of a tension for me in my practice of photography.  For the most part, my photography comes to me fairly naturally.  I see things in the world that provoke my visual interest.  I react to them with my camera, and I edit the camera’s captures to translate them into what I saw with my mind’s eye.  It is, blessedly, a fairly simple and straightforward process, at least at it’s most basic and fundamental level.

Not so with minimalism.  In my mind’s eye, I can easily visualize the kinds of minimalist imagery I would  like to be making.  In the real world, it’s difficult to isolate minimalist compositions from all of the background clutter and visual noise.  Whereas most of my imagery results from compositions that practically jump out at me from the seen world, with minimalism for the first time it’s just the other way around – I’m having to work to try to see where the minimalist compositions are.  As of right now, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

As an aside, I will say that about 98% of the minimalist photographs I see out there – at least in the landscape realm – seem to be scenes of water or snow.  This is understandable, since water and snow are naturals for minimalist compositions.  I live in Colorado, a state not known for its extensive shorelines or large bodies of water, so my opportunities to use water in this way are limited.  We do get a fair amount of snow here in Colorado, but being a good Coloradoan, if there’s snow on the ground I’m usually skiing on it, so I probably miss a lot of photographic opportunities that way.

In any case, if you take water and snow away, it seems there’s a lot less role models to look to for minimalist photography.  I think the image in this post fairly can be called minimal.  It consists of only three elements (the mountains, the sky, and the thin strips of clouds) and just about only two tones (nearly pure black, nearly pure white, and a small portion of grey tones in between).  Keeping with my working definition of minimalism set forth above, I hope it captures the essence of the sunset over Colorado’s Front Range, at least as I saw it on that particular day, by eliminating all of the non-essential things that were unnecessary to communicate that essence.

Speaking of eliminating non-essential things, you may be interested to know where this image was photographed.  Spoiler alert – if you like to experience your photography purely, without knowing the story behind the work, then read no further.

This image was photographed in the parking lot of the Park Meadows mall in suburban Denver, Colorado.  Just outside of the bottom edge of the frame, not included in the image, are the miles and miles of sprawling city lights of Denver, and if I had moved the frame just a bit lower, you would see the light poles and concrete parking spaces of the mall.  Photographing with my camera and tripod set up, I can’t tell you how many strange looks I got from busy shoppers heading to their cars with their day’s purchases, and I suspect the circling mall security patrol might have given me trouble if I had stayed longer.  Still, it’s consistent with my firm belief that compelling images can be seen just about anywhere, no matter where you have to plant your tripod’s legs to capture them.

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