Arrangements: Clayton Cotterell

Clayton Cotterell, Arrangements

New feature up on Paper Journal, this one on Portland photographer Clayton Cotterell, his series Arrangements, and abstraction in photography. Arrangements is currently on show at the Ampersand Gallery through October 24. A little snippet:

This thematic abstraction hinges on the razor-sharp timing of Cotterell’s photographs. He captures seemingly chance confluences of vivid colour, clear and simple form that at times rests in the purely geometric, and momentary, fragile light to create the sense that the images are instantaneous abstract compositions. If time were shifted even slightly forward or backward, the house of cards would fall or the thin curtain may blow out of place; the light may dapple the foods in the water in a way that lacks the zap of familiarity that runs so deeply through Arrangements.


I had a really interesting time researching the concept of abstraction in photography for this one. Because of the physical nature of photography – light radiating from/bouncing off/shining through the subject and activating some photo-sensitive material to create an image – it’s difficult to achieve truly abstract images. A painter or a sculptor is limited to basically whatever they can imagine and can make their artworks as non-representational as they want. Where Rothko can ooze some color onto a big canvas to create his specific desired effect, a photographer needs to take a picture of something. If the subject doesn’t exist in some way, there’s no way for the camera to capture it. Because of this, abstract photography tends to be very technical – think Man Ray’s rayographs and digital manipulation of contemporary photography.

Man Ray, Rayograph, (1922)

What Cotterell does well in Arrangementsis approach abstraction in his work while keeping it firmly anchored in representation – a really great metaphor for the nature of abstraction in photography as a whole. None of the pictures in the series are unique technical depictions of their subject, as a lot of abstract photography tends toward, but they are surprising in their composition and careful positioning of light, shape, and timing.

From Arrangements

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