In Search of the Abstract

by Flo Deems

Introduction: One subject that has long frustrated me, "long" being several years, is a sculpture displayed at the Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey, USA.

Project: The sculpture in question, titled "Dragon's Shrill in the Cosmic Void" by Yuyu Yang (see also: this page), has caused me to "shrill" in my own "cosmic void" out of frustration. The sculpture is on display in the area called "The Water Garden." Standing about seven feet tall in total, it consists of the "dragon's head" - almost a mobius coil of thick very shiny stainless steel mounted on a square base set in a pool of water - and the "void" consisting of two adjacent black-painted walls that provide a background for the head. Both walls have water cascading down their full width from top to the shallow pool at their base. The stainless dragon's head is set on a large four-foot tall cube, also black, with water again cascading from the pool down one side into a shallow moat/chanel connecting with the other water channels in the Water Garden. All in all, a very abstract representation of an abstract idea.

Dragon's Head
Click for larger size

Due to its size and height, this dragon's head sculpture has defied me time and again as I've sought to produce some sort of abstract images that please me. One of the problems at the Grounds for Sculpture, from a photographic point of view, is that of busy and distracting backgrounds every where one turns. And such is true of this piece, also. But on a recent visit, after another frustrating start, I suddenly got inspired to leave the main subject alone and concentrate on the water itself--the representation of the "void."

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Another "head" job: First I concentrated on the head itself (for the umpteenth time). The image below was the best I could do. I'm just not tall enough to shoot the "critter" without getting the tops of the walls and the trees beyond in the image. This is the only angle that really shows the form of the head, the eye, and the open jaws.

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Abstraction, first attempt: As I walked past the base cube side that has the water flowing down its surface from the pool, I noticed that imperfections in the surface of the cube were causing the water to back up around the imperfection and flow in a narrow inverted V shape down the rest of the distance. The blackness under the water's surface reflected the light from the light colored cement walkway--and also my feet and tripod. So I tried setting up to shoot just these distorted reflections, deserting the head shots. My first try is below.

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Second try: This attempt still wasn't what I was looking for. I looked to my left and saw what looked like it would make a more interesting abstract, because it didn't have any identifiable human parts in it. So again I tried several versions. The image below is again the best of this series.

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Third time's the charm!: By this time my feet were hurting. When the lower end of my body doesn't feel up to par, the thinking end doesn't, either. So I collapsed the tripod, picked up my gear and thought I'd try my luck with a near-by sculpture. But as I rounded the corner of the dragon's cube, my eye caught on the edge of the upper wall of the "void" of the dragon sculpture. Well, lo and behold. Maybe, just maybe, this was what I'd been looking for all along, but just had to see it to realize this! I moved back and forth, lowered my head, then raised it again, until finally I saw the "perfect" abstract image! Setting up the tripod to the proper height so the camera saw what my eyes had picked out and ignoring my protesting feet, I started shooting. The best of this final series is below.

The right side of the image shows a few reflections of objects rendered unidentifiable by the flowing water. The left side of the image is the end cap of that wall. The whitish area near the bottom is the hazy reflection of a near-by sculpture. The rest of the subdued yellow colors are reflected from one of the buildings. And the apparent graininess is just that--the grainy texture of the end cap's surface, pitted by toxins and acids in the air. No water has ever cascaded down this end cap, except when it rains.

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So now I finally have an even more abstract image from "The Dragon's Shrill in the Cosmic Void" than the abstract nature of the sculpture itself, and that I like very much. I realize that it's not to everyone's taste. But that's okay. As long as it pleases me--that's what counts. After all, I "birthed" this image after two long hard years of trying.

Will I try shooting the dragon again? Probably not. I haven't been able to abstract the dragon's head and still remain true to the whole abstract idea of a dragon. There are plenty of other images to be gleaned from the hundreds of sculptures on display, indoors and outdoors on this very lovely property. And if I get tired of shooting sculptures, I can always shoot scenics on this 35-acre parcel. Or close-ups of the many unusual plants and trees growing there. Also, I can shoot four seasons of the same scenes, if I choose.

But wait!: One year later! I now must take back what I wrote in the paragraph above! Please click on the link below, Phase 2 to find out!

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On to Phase 2

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