Formalism focuses of the formal elements, it is all about the technical elements and how the image was created, there is no emotion or contexts behind the image. What you see is what you get.
The West Coast f/64 Group, founded in 1932 consisted of a group of photographers working under the formalism movement. The American Formalists, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham, were part of this group and their work focused on portraying nature, as it is, no human interaction, just purely nature in its most natural form.
“Edward Weston’s visual Poetics emerged from concentration on tone and shape…Weston sought clarity of form and extolled the camera for its depth of focus and its ability to see more than the human eye” (Liz wells – Photography, a critical introduction, pg 269)
I like the approach of the formalists, in which a landscape is just a landscape, valued for its natural beauty and not for its deep contextual meaning. I feel the design principles and formal elements are particularly important in landscape photography. That a compositionally strong image is a strong image, even if there isn’t meaning behind it. It is strong for being technically brilliant.
As a photographer I don’t feel like I pay much attention to the formal elements, it just kind of happens, and sometimes it definitely doesn’t happen. So with these images, I am going to take a formalist approach. Focusing on line, tone, shape, pattern etc. more than a narrative and concept. I feel tis will help me produce strong images, and make me a better photographer.
Edward Weston’s work shows landscapes, in a slightly abstract way. They focus on the formal elements and the use of line and tone so much, you don’t see the landscape for what it is. This makes his work differ from the likes of Ansel Adams, despite being part of the same movement, who’s work focuses on composition, but are more traditional landscape images. I like Weston’s work and abstract landscapes are something I would like to explore, but I don’t think they work for this brief.
I am a massive fan of Ansel Adams and his landscape work. They feel very pure and are I believe for a moment that the places
he was photography actually still look like this. Despite the face I know the Yosemite National Park has 11 restaurants in it and
is a massive tourist spot. You now have to go miles into the park to find an area not taken over by humans.
His work has incredible depth of field; this is due to the use of a tiny aperture hole, f64, and using large format cameras. This depth of field creates a great sense of depth, and gives amazing detail throughout the image.
Adam’s work is also compositionally strong; this is where the formalism steps in. His landscapes are purely landscapes; they have no alternate purpose or meaning. They just show the landscape (minus the human elements later in his career) for what it is, and its natural beauty.
He has strong use of leading lines, whether that’s a river winding through the hills, or the hills themselves leading from one to another. This leads the viewer’s eye right through the image and lets you take in each and ever part of it. There is also a sense of pattern to his work, even if it isn’t obvious. The trees or fences or the hills, all create patterns that draw you in and take you through the image. Tone is another element he uses well, shadows and highlights created from the natural light, emphasize the contours of the land. This is controlled by the time of day he takes the image. He would wait all day in the same place just waiting for the right light.
I feel the square format, from his large format 6×6 camera. This square format allowed him to take scenes without turning the camera. It also gives a sense of balance to the image, as everything is evenly proportioned. This square format makes the rule of thirds and placement of focal points easier, and also stronger, as they are framed tighter and their placement is more prominent.