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The Urban Abstract Landscape

June 30, 2009

This post will begin with an observation, but mostly importantly, will finish with a quote . An incredible quote I must add, and one that made me believe my observation was perhaps…right on the money.

A few years ago I began to notice a certain type of image that was popping up, over and over, in many of photography’s avenues and outlets.

I had seen similar work before, but it had only been in textbooks, or photo-history books which devoted many pages to the 60’s and 70’s, especially in the area of color photography.

Fast forward to today.

So this new style of image. I’ll call it the “urban abstract moment.” Always in color, obtuse, typically void of people, based on a simple pattern, or lack there of, bordering on genius, but hovering dangerously near falling into the category of image that really needs to be explained.

You know me, this sort of thing gets me thinking, wondering…questioning. Why? Why this? Why now?

I’ve got a theory or two.

First, it’s detached in a way. There are no people, most of the time, which means little human interaction. I think this could be a direct and sobering reflection of our complex society. More people than ever, more people than ever living in cities, and more isolation than every before. Days, weeks, months spent in cubicles, or in front of a monitor don’t lend themselves to forming humans rife with diverse interaction skills. Add the cell phone and iPod and we have created our own version of a human technology bubble.

Second, I think this is somewhat easy work to produce. It’s odd. Again, no people, no time required to engage what you are photographing. It’s there and it’s not moving. Go get it. And don’t think not having to get a model release is not part of the success of this work.

Third, it has been accepted. Packaged, printed, sold, again and again, and is a safe direction to chase. This work isn’t about complex lighting, endangered species, social issues, celebrities or war, it’s mostly about suburbia and artifacts of our society.

What’s odd, at least for me, is that I’ve seen work of this nature I believe I really like. But then I see another body of work, of the exact same ilk and I have no ability to explain why one group is better than another, and suddenly I can’t explain why I even liked the first group to begin with. And then I fall down. And then I can’t get up.

I find it a hard style of work to grow intimate with, to develop with. Get it, develop….okay, I’ll shut up.

But again, here is the real kicker. The art world loves it. They do. They really love it. So I get it. I know why I see so much of it. It’s sellable, hangable, printable, frameable, bookable and devilishly stylish in a completely disconnected way.

Yes, the “disconnected moment” is also used to describe this work. But, alas, who cares right? It’s photography, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

So, a few days ago, I’m in London. I’m standing on the street corner, hanging out, like I’m prone to do, but I happen to be standing in front of a photography gallery, one that is considered an elite space.

I see this group of people approaching….two men, one woman, and a baby in a stroller. Looks to be a small, family outing in mid-voyage time and space.

As they get closer to where I”m standing, the guy in the lead says, “Hey, a photography gallery.”

And this is where things get interesting.

The second guy pushing the stroller looks up and says, “How about another picture of someone in an urban landscape?”

“Oddly.”

“How about ANOTHER one of those?” “How many people have that?” The residue of his sarcasm left a gushing torrent in the street.

I was left with only the sound of a squeaky stroller wheel and my amazement at what I had just heard.

I wanted to spin and say, “Could you repeat that?”

That was it. That was my observation, signed, sealed and delivered so contritely on that small English alley. It wasn’t just me. There were others who recognized this work, this style and also had questions regarding it’s place in our photo-world.

As always, I have no answers people, just more questions. During the time it took me to write this there have been great hordes of urban moments scavenged from our communities like minerals from our precious lands.

This is just an observation, nothing more. We are all influenced by trends, and I think this is just another in a long line. I just happen to see this one as much, or more, than anything else at this time. I really do believe our outside forces dramatically impact our photography, and that is what I find most interesting about this specific image style.

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