Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Are Abstracts Too Personal?

It has been said that if one wants to be successful at selling their photographs they shouldn’t be making abstract images. Abstracts don’t fly off the shelves, at least that’s what I’ve been told.

I make abstract images because I enjoy it. I like looking for lines, shapes and patterns in places where most non-photographers wouldn’t. I find it very satisfying to find something that looks like it might be interesting when isolated from its surroundings and then going on to compose an image and tweak the camera position until it seems to come together in the viewfinder. With a click, it’s then frozen forever.

But do these images interest others? Sure, an abstract with saturated colors and distinct angles are going to grab one’s attention, but what about the more subtle ones with gentle changes in tonality and less dramatic shapes? I find them personally satisfying, but I’m not at all sure that they have broad appeal.

Images have to stand by themselves. In the end, the viewer sees the image in isolation. They don’t care if you had to stand knee deep in mud for hours to get the shot or if it was a two second chance grab that happened to work out unexpectedly well. So with some of the more subtle abstracts, I am uncertain if the image itself stands alone or if the appeal remains a personal one, with the photographer being the only one able to fully appreciate the image because he/she was the one experiencing the making of the photograph.

Ice Abstract
Copyright Howard Grill

For example, last weekend I went out into freezing weather to make some images. It was so cold that I had to remain near the car and return to it every 20-30 minutes in order to warm up (OK, I know I am probably just a wimp compared to you folks from further north). During this excursion, I was drawn to some interesting patterns in the ice on a river and started making abstract images.

The ice abstracts are meaningful to me because of the personal experience I had of standing in the freezing cold to make them, as well as the experience of being at that particular location….but do they stand alone as images that will hold the interest of a viewer that has not been to the same site? I am not so sure.

Maybe my uncertainty is just related to the quality of these abstract images and my ‘fear’ that the only reason they appeal to me is because they remind me of the day I took them, as opposed to being interesting. On the other hand, perhaps this is one of the reasons why abstracts don’t sell; maybe they are just too personal.