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Minimalist photography is a deceptively complex art form that makes use of extreme simplicity in the photos while often using negative space to focus the viewer’s gaze on the fewest possible subjects in an image.
The History of Minimalist Photography.
Minimalism emerged in the mid 20th Century and has been used widely by artists, interior designers, musical composers and photographers since its inception. Drawing from a wide range of influences, including the popular Zen theories of the Far East and the Reductive Art Movement in 1950’s America, minimalism quickly became a fixed feature in the world of modern art.
Minimalist art seeks to use the fewest possible elements within an image or piece of artwork to express the contents of the work. Despite the potential contradiction in this, minimalism manages to portray powerful images that are expertly composed and often highly emotionally charged.
Leading Minimalist Photographers.
The following are two of the leading minimalist photographers who have shaped this unique art form and continue to do so today.
- Josef Hoflehner: The Austrian minimalist photographer was born in 1955 and has taken some of the most interesting minimalist landscape photos of modern times. His first foray into the world of minimalist photography was in South Africa, that he explored with his camera after quitting his 9 to 5 job at the age of 20, since when he has worked all over the world, including in the USA, Japan and India. He always said the ‘empty spaces’ and ‘desolate’ scenery had a powerful impact on him and his work has managed to capture this feeling perfectly. Josef Hoflehner is represented by some of the world’s top galleries and has had more than 50 solo exhibitions during his fantastic career.
- Julian Schulze: Julian Schulze is a highly talented up and coming minimalist photographer from Berlin, Germany who has taken a wide range of beautifully composed, highly colorful images that focus on urban photography, giving the viewer a unique take on the city around them. Focusing on the urban environment and incorporating shadows, bright colors and architectural leading lines, he manages to create powerful and though provoking photographs.
Black and White Minimalist Photography.
Without the use of color in the images the black and white minimalist photographer must employ expert compositional skills, leading lines and a deep understanding of the tonal relationship within their work.
Sparse but potently emotive, a black and white minimalist photograph can be a powerful window into another world. Despite the advent of color photography and the growing popularity of it, black and white minimalist photography has remained popular and still allows the photographer a huge scope of creativity and expressive potential.
The Key Features that make up an Outstanding Minimalist Photography.
- Keep it simple! A powerful composition that is put together from very sparse elements can often contain a potent narrative when it’s done right. Working within the relatively strict limitations of minimalist photography will really test your compositional skills and force you to get really creative! It’s amazing how much feeling, information and sense of place you can portray with very few elements in the photo making this a really challenging project to take on.
- Make use of the negative space in the composition. You can use the negative space in the image to really draw the viewer into the image allowing them to project their own narrative into the image. The negative space in the image doesn’t have to be ‘empty’, it could be textured or patterned, but you want it to help lead the eye of the viewer around the image. Getting the balance between the predominant negative space and the subjects of the image can be difficult but with practice and some practical inspiration you will soon be producing stunning work!
- Color in minimalist photography is usually kept as simple as possible with large spaces of similar tones. When you are composing your minimalistic image try to find colors that naturally complement each other. You can use the ‘color wheel’ to learn about this and find colors that compliment one another. Another way that you can use color to good effect is to employ small areas of color against very bland backgrounds made up of negative spaces which will make the subject stand out boldly in a harmonious way.
- Leading Lines are an important element to give your minimalist photography a strong narrative structure while drawing your viewers eye to the points of interest within your composition. As well as leading lines you can use naturally occurring shapes, boundaries and features to achieve the same effects.
- Isolating your subject from the background can be difficult and will require thought to decide how you will put them on center stage without seeming clumsy or awkward. Capturing the subject while including spatial isolation within your image without disconnecting the subject from the negative space can be tricky, and unless you want to do that for a particular reason, then maintaining the harmony of the image will be a skill you have to master.
- If there are naturally occurring repetitions in the image then you can make use of these to create a strong impact on your viewers. The patterns that are revealed within a repeating negative space or leading lines, such as train tracks or the waves on the sea, can create a fantastic backdrop to your chosen subject matter.
How to Develop your Minimalist Photography.
There are many ways that you can set about improving your minimalist photography with practise being at the top of the list! However there are some very practical steps that you can undertake to really take your minimalist photos to the next level.
You can set yourself challenges whereby you can take a photo walk and look for, for example, a subject matter that you can photograph while incorporating a majority of empty space with a single leading line that will draw the viewer’s eye to your subject. This kind of challenge is harder than it at first sounds and is a brilliant way to structure your practice sessions.
Minimalist photography is a hugely popular genre.
It may seem contradictory at first, but in our modern world where we are constantly bombarded with images, videos and visual cues, the stark simplicity of a good minimalist photo really stands out from the rest.
With the near complete saturation of society by the media, the delicate, thoughtful and unobtrusive minimalist’s work feels like a breath of fresh air, and your viewers will respond accordingly. There is something calming, deeply profound and emotionally charged about a great minimalist photograph. Taking your time to learn about and practice this challenging art form will transform your perspective in photography while giving you the perfect outlet to work on your general compositional skills.
Do you like minimalism in photography?