Tag Archives: minimalism

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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Simple

Bend in the Road

Here is a simple image of a simple subject by a simple photographer.  That’s not a put-down, simplicity is a virtue.  I’m not a big believer in applying rules to photography, but one “rule” I learned early on is to keep things simple, and it continues to serve me well.

When I refer to simplicity, what I really mean is keeping compositions simple.  The reason I put the word “rule” in quotation marks is because, really, I don’t think of simplicity as being a rule.  After all, what does it mean to be simple?  Unlike, say, the rule of thirds, or the rule against putting a horizon line in the middle of the frame, there’s really no rote, mechanical way to apply the “rule” of simplicity.

Instead, simplicity is a fluid concept that adapts to the subject matter and circumstances in which I am photographing.  For example, simplicity really isn’t about how much detail there is in a subject:  here, there’s a fair amount of detail in the branches of the trees, the clouds in the sky, and the grasses on the ground.  It also isn’t about the number of elements in the frame:  here, there are at least four – the trees, the sky, the ground, and the road – and any number of components of those.  Moreover, simplicity also is not the same as minimalism:  while most minimal photographs probably are simple, a photograph can be simple without being minimal.

I suppose for me, simplicity is the absence of unnecessary complexity.  This image, for example, eliminates the fence that was just out of the frame to the right, the house that was just out of the frame to the left, the pastures and trees that were just over the rise in the road, and the mountains in the distance that were behind that.  It’s not that any of these elements weren’t photogenic, it’s just that they weren’t necessary for this image.  They would have introduced unnecessary complexity into the composition.

The title of this image is “Bend in the Road.”  Again, simple.

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