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HomeContentsThemes > Abstraction of scale

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1.   Abstractions of scale
With most images we can grasp immediately the proportions and sizes of the objects and people photographed. We know that most people are in the four to seven foot range and therefore can use that as a scale for the other objects. Where a chair is shown we know roughly what size it should be but there are many images where the sizes and proportions are far from clear. The fact that we can not readily reference the scale pushes the object towards an abstraction.
When we look through a microscope or a telescope we don't know, or need to, the absolute size of the items being viewed and the intermediary lenses separate us from the items. Once there are no intermediaries and we are shown a two dimensional photograph our scales of reference are lost and we need to search for clues about the scale. This temporary confusion is important and can be exploited by photographers to create patterns or viewpoints that intrigue. The actual object that was photographed becomes less important than it's representation - the "what is it?" question becomes the key issue.
There are obvious scale alterations that were alluded to above - the microscope and the telescope being prime examples. Very small specimens when enlarged to the scale of human vision can contain details that are fascinating. The view of astronomical phenomena creates patterns that we can only marvel at. Another class are the photographs where a microscope or telescope were not used but the objects photographed, the angles and the available light combine to create an image where all scale is lost. The final photograph is not an illusion but the actual object on the print is not immediately obvious. This section provides examples of these.
The abstraction of the small
Richard Caldicott
Untitled = 93 
Sondra Barrett
Dancing Spirit, Sauvignon Blanc, Sterling Vineyards 1982, 1 Year 
[Microscopic wine crystals] 
Minor White
Frosted Window 
Adam Fuss
Sondra Barrett took highly magnified photographs of the crystals that form within wine and spirits. These are images that come from scientific research but cross over the boundaries into art photography because of their abstract beauty.
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German Space Center - Planet Earth
Planet Earth 
German Space Center
Click here to buy this book from Amazon
David Malin - A View of the Universe
A View of the Universe 
David Malin
Click here to buy this book from Amazon
The abstraction of the loss of scale
Lewis Baltz
West Wall, Tolo, 2401 South Pullman, Santa Ana 
Escalier de Montmatre 
Gy÷rgy Kepes
1938 (ca)
With some photographs there is no obvious scale and the patterns within the object photographed become the focus of concentration.
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Abstractions of scale with landscapes
Brett Weston
Sand Formation 
1950s (ca)
Brett Weston
There are landscapes such as deserts and snowscapes where the tonal ranges form shapes that are difficult to interpret and extracting a true scale becomes difficult if not impossible. Fields covered with crops of a single hue also fall into this class when all scaling information such as trees, houses and telegraph poles and power lines are excluded.
Within the desert landscapes of Brett Weston we are unclear whether we are seeing a detail that covers a few square feet or vast landscape. All sense of scale is lost as there is nothing that gives us the measure of the location.
[Checklist]Click on image for details 
[Copyright and Fair Use Issues]
This is a stub for a theme that is under active development if you have any thoughts on what should be included please send them to so they can be incorporated. Many thanks.
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