Niagara River Rapids
Artist: Mark D. Whitney
Media: Digital Photograph

Minimal Yet Expansive Photographs

I like minimal images. And by that I mean images that don’t have a lot of things in them. Images that include the least number of elements needed to convey the essence of the subject.

The fewer ‘things’ there are in an image the tighter the control of the viewer’s attention on what remains while at the same time promoting just the opposite, freedom for the viewer’s attention to wander off toward infinite possibilities. The thing is the starting point, the imaginative doorway. The space is the realm of pure thought where anything can happen.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about photos that fall into the formal art category of Minimalism. Although there can be some overlap, minimalism tries to confine the viewer to the object. An artistic version of WYSIWYG – what you see if what you get. It is what it is and nothing more.

Maybe we can call what I’m talking about expansivism – art that seeks to plant a small seed of an idea that can grow into a large wildly branching tree.

I find that time is often needed to produce my expansive images and time is what’s needed to make them work. In McGurk’s post, Everybody Knows Vincent Van Gogh, there is a quote from the movie Lust for Life that goes like this:

Paul Gauguin: With all your talk of emotion, all I see when I look at your work is just that you paint too fast!

Vincent Van Gogh: You look too fast!

Images that are what they are can be scanned quickly. A travel photo of a busy city street is just a street. You might look at it and think what pretty buildings or that’s a lot of traffic, but then you’re done. No matter how long you look at it, there isn’t anything else to see so you glance at it and move on.

For a work to be more than what it is requires a focal point to arrest the viewer’s attention so that they will linger, dig deeper, and give time for thought. I think this is one of the appeals of abstract images. Without the dead end path of immediate recognition, the mind is forced to scramble in a thousand different directions in an attempt to gain understanding.

I hope this image is one that has that expansive quality. It does for me and that’s why I like it. I bring along the extra baggage of having created it so I have memories of the place – the sound and the smell of the water and the feeling of the sun on my skin. But it also takes me to other places like on sailing ships, and into mountains, and to concert halls, and to my childhood living room watching cartoons on Saturday morning, and walking with my father, and …


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