The principle of photographic subtraction and the commonality of art

I once heard someone say that painting is the art of addition and photography is the art of subtraction; however, when I really understand this truth, it is already many years later.


The principle of photographic subtraction and the commonality of art

I realized afterwards that the small screen size of mobile phones tends to have a compact effect on the presentation of the screen. People’s visual center will always stay on those large objects, and it is easy to overlook small details. This can also explain why the photos I took are beautiful when viewed on a mobile phone, but they are ugly once I put them on the computer. It’s really because I don’t understand the principle of photographic subtraction, so I included irrelevant details into the frame.


Although the use of subtraction is the main method of photographic creation, it will not work without the presentation of the artistic subject and a good subject.


The principle of photographic subtraction and the commonality of art


Art is to find the characteristics and laws of beauty from familiar things. Beauty and art are projected regular oscillations and swings in people’s hearts. The principle of photography creation is the same as that of poetry creation—it can even be said that as with most artistic creations, creators have to defamiliarize things that people are familiar with. Familiarity is the prerequisite of defamiliarization, and defamiliarization is the result of familiarization. Without being familiar with this premise, it is impossible for people to experience, perceive, and gain emotional resonance. If there is no defamiliarization, people’s perception will become numb, and it is impossible to have any artistic impulse. Therefore, art is to extract the value of beauty from the things that people are accustomed to, and express it in a perfect form.

For example, “trees” have become commonplace for people. If you want to awaken people’s artistic perception of trees, you must reconstruct the art and deal with it as defamiliarization.

The following lines:

The tree trembling in the cold wind,

The tree with its fallen leaves,

It buries the roots where people cannot see.


The principle of photographic subtraction and the commonality of art


The tree here has gone beyond the scope of general experience, has the dimensions of emotion and thought, and presents artistic characteristics. Actually photography is too. In the work of a large number of photographers, you will find that the content presented in the photographer’s work is probably something that people are familiar with, but why is it so beautiful in the photographer’s lens?



Black and white tree

The reason is that the photographer removes those irrelevant content and details, and presents something pure, we can call it: the law or the quality of beauty.

Therefore, the things in the photographer’s lens are beyond the scope of people’s general experience, and have the connotation of beauty.




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