Alfred Stieglitz and Wolfgang Tillmans: Abstraction and Emotional Communication

Alfred Stieglitz and Wolfgang Tillmans:
abstraction and emotional communication

Since its very beginning, photography has always been used as a powerful medium to communicate emotions, messages and sensations. Abstraction is a way to escape from the symbolic implications of the known. This mechanism acts through two phases. The first one, that I like to refer to as recognition, where the subject matter is recognised for what it is. In this context, it is perhaps helpful to consider Plato’s thoughts: for him, ideas are some sort of archetype of things, a combination of essential features that allow us to identify all things for what they are. The second phase, which I call association, is where the symbolic connections are made with the recognised subject matter. When we look at an abstract piece of art our brain tries to compare what our eyes see to the ideas, but either there is no objective correspondence with the known, or the subject matter in itself, however recognisable, does not contain meaning deep enough to fully understand the image. Consequently we are forced to build a direct emotional link with the image, as it is the only instrument we can use to construe it.
This raises new questions and objections, such as ‘what exactly can be defined as abstract?’ and ‘different minds can create different emotional links’. I think that the boundaries of the abstract lay in the artist’s intention. In other words, if the artist doesn’t want the viewers to recognise the subject matter, then the piece is abstract. Of course, this is obvious in completely abstract pieces of work (comparable to the work of abstract painters like Mondrian or Kandinsky), but it is less blatant when it comes to macro or formalist photography. As for the subjectivity of the emotional interpretation, again it is the photographer’s choice to leave free interpretation or to try to funnel the viewers into a specific state of mind.

In this analysis I will compare two very different...