Abstraction, Space and Photography

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Woodrow, Ross D

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Davis, Rebekah M

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Much of the published writing about my practice, has focused specifically on the technical approach I employ when constructing the visual image, with very little detailed analysis of the underlying influences, visual language references and historical and contemporary methodologies embedded in the work. This exegesis titled “Abstraction, Space and Photography” identifies some of the fundamental aspects of the abstract visual language I create as a regional artist situated in far north Queensland and attempting to capture its ethos as location and conceptual construct. Consequently, at the outset I provide some context towards the development of the photographic process that I employ. Although I avoid singular focus on the technical aspects of my image making I am aware that both the technical and conceptual aspects of photography merge in an elemental, and even indexical way, when the artistic intent involves constructing abstract images. Concept and process are intrinsically linked and cannot be separated, as one informs the other. Anne Marsh describes this relationship: Unlike conventional photographs Fitzgerald’s large landscapes are constructed without referent in the outside world. Fitzgerald recreates his experience of actual landscapes in these unique works by shining light directly into the camera’s aperture – literally painting with light onto the sensitive surface. The result sits between landscape and abstraction, and challenges assumptions about photography’s identity as a medium. The series of works developed throughout the Masters (produced 2014-2017) demonstrate an increasing maturity and progression in my practice towards a form of visual language which I would conceive as a kind of photographic abstract expressionism. Heavily influenced by, and in many ways attracted to the more traditional arts — their freedom of expression, additive capacity and representational qualities — this body of work explores photographic images which are imbued with a sense of the painterly and gestural, establishing pluralistic aesthetic connections and strategies of abstraction which stimulate the known — through visualising forms of the unknown. In contrast to my previous works, these images are visually complex, being characterised by a sense of movement and spatial intrigue. In these works I aim to establish a resolved vernacular that moves beyond the experimental, thereby challenge preconceived notions and expectations for the photograph and going some way towards destabilising the accepted narrative of traditional photography as an indexical medium. The exegesis highlights a number of innovative elements I deploy in creating a contemporary visual language in this body of work which I contend offers unique insights into and perspectives on the environment and landscape of central and far north Queensland and northern Australia. I also present contrasting antecedent pictorial traditions and positivist attitudes which have typified the landscape genre that I evoke. The following exegesis has been separated into two distinct sections allowing an opportunity to explore my dual interest in abstraction as a device across the mediums of painting and photography and as a vehicle through which to represent spatial subjectivity. Section One: Abstracting Forms explores key texts which I have found most relevant in the development of my practice drawing parallels to the theories and precedents established by critics such as Susan Sontag, Helmut Gernsheim, Aaron Scharf, Lyle Rexer, John Berger, to name a few. Section Two: Representing Space, Time and the Landscape investigates the primary subject which underpins my work discussing the philosophical notions of spatial construction alongside the shifting ideological influences which have underpinned the representation of landscape as it applies in the Australian context. Throughout the exegesis I have integrated discussion alongside works of key contemporary and historical artists and that of my own to emphasise the resonances between contemporary practice and theory. Artists such as Paul Strand, Man Ray, James Welling, Wolfgang Tillmans, Sigmar Polke, Susan Derges, to name a few, have not only inspired and motivated form and direction within my work but also share similarities in the pursuit of exploration within the medium of photography, seeking to both challenge the preconceived notions of what a photograph is, whilst simultaneously investigating new and progressive developments in the process of image making.

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Thesis (Masters)

Degree Program

Master of Visual Arts (MVA)


Queensland College of Art

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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regional artist

photographic abstract expressionism


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