Macro Expressionism Tenets 2 & 3 Explained

carlin felder, macro photography, macro expressionism

Macro Expressionism

Of the 7 Tenets of Macro Expressionism I want to combine #’s 2 and 3 in this article. All of the concepts work together to create the sum of my idea for abstract macro photography, but I want to create more of a conversation around my points to flesh out what each tenet means overall.


#2 Subjective views of minute details:

All of photography or art, or creative endeavors in general, is the result of one’s feeling about what “looks good, looks right or sounds good” in the world.


As artists we begin to create what we have been trained to think looks good or to make what we think is appropriate subject matter. Maybe we were taught to draw representationally or taught to write in perfect rhyme or with impeccable grammar. Regardless we begin our lives with our own point of view, and then as we grow our point of view either gets trained out of us (or conversely, encouraged) depending upon who our teachers are and what their agendas are toward art education.


I spent many years trying to let myself feel comfortable enjoying the types of images I preferred to photograph – not only enjoying, but also allowing myself to focus on this imagery as my subject matter.


When I was younger and looking at photography online or in magazines/galleries, I would see artists focusing on portraits, photojournalism, vast landscapes, architecture, or tack sharp macro photos of flowers or bugs. I thought this was what I am supposed to photograph because this is what people were getting accolades for in the world.


What I was seeing wasn’t what I wanted to photograph though. I wanted to photograph and share with others abstractions taken in solitude. Abstractions with blurred focus, non-representational subject matter or even unattractive subject matter.


Accepting that I didn’t want to be a photographer of people or buildings or landscapes was pivotal. Once I was able to discard what I thought was appropriate, I was able to focus on what my eyes enjoyed seeing.


I found myself going deeper and closer to the subject until the subject was a larger than life color field and the result was visually appealing to me. What I have learned is to allow myself to love the subject matter I create and try to care less about what others think.

macro photography, abstract macro photography, macro expresssionism

How this relates to Abstract Macro Photography, or Macro Expressionism Tenet #2?

There is no right or wrong way to approach abstract macro photography. It is a feeling and attitude one brings to the art of photography. It’s not bound by technique nor limited by the equipment one chooses. Nor is it a product of years of attention to detail. It’s a way of approaching photography which relies less on the technical details and more on the artistic interpretation of the object in the moment.


Distortions of color, shape, line and form are acceptable and encouraged. It is the artist’s (photographer’s) right to interpret the world as she or he see fit.


The Macro Expressionist photographer uses to one’s advantage calculated accidents of the camera which are a result of movement and intent. It is important to let the camera act as the paint brush which captures images for print (or the screen) and let subjective views of minute details be the result.



Tenet #3 – Expose the Unseen

The human eye cannot naturally create blur or color distortions that a Macro Expressionist photo can represent. The camera can alter perspective in tones, form, shape, color and line. It can foreshorten images and selectively focus on details.


Jean Cocteau said “photography is unreal, it alters tone and perspective…” What looks accidental to a photo realist is an expressionistic, artistic interpretation to the Macro Expressionist. It is the result of playing with the subject or object photographed.


When I make photos I intentionally allow light to make the subject translucent or the edges of the object to become distorted. I move my lens under the subject to get images of the subject from a viewpoint I don’t normally see. I move my camera into the object and let the lens penetrate the subject matter. I wouldn’t normally walk up to a plant or flower and insert my face into it a few inches, but with my camera I do. And the result is a view of the subject I don’t see from an everyday perspective.


I want to move beyond the surface representation and make images which represent what I don’t see. My aim is to be child-like, but educated, in my approach to the art of photography. It is not pure imitation of the environment, as a child imitates his or her parents, looking to them for cues as to what’s right or wrong. It’s not setting up a tripod and adding a glowing light ring to illuminate the subject.


It’s taking what I see and evolving it visually by the penetration of my lens, investigation from angles which my eyes don’t see naturally, and the application of artistry to an object in nature. Macro Expressionism is a calculated approach to the creative endeavor of photography whose goal is to expose the unseen.


Tenet One for Further Reading


Need more inspiration? Brooks Jensen will inspire your work. Pick up one of his books to elevate your photography mind!

Carlin Felder Author Biography

Tenets of Macro Expressionism

macro expressionism

Macro Expressionism

When I was writing a Manifesto of Macro Expressionism, I identified 7 core elements for my approach to the style of macro photography I focus on.

The tenets may seem redundant on the surface so I am working towards grounding and defining each concept so it can stand on its own merit and have a unique context. This post and the rest to follow are drafts which may be edited as I work through them.


The 7 Tenets of Macro Expressionism are:

  1. Emphasize non-representational subject matter
  2. Subjective views of minute details
  3. Expose the unseen
  4. Action and movement toward or away from a subject while photographing
  5. Use of tools to create mood – such as blur, bokeh, and post production manipulation
  6. Lack of emphasis on technical perfection
  7. Abstract imagery from objects in the environment


This post will define roughly the first tenet – Emphasize non-representational subject matter – and try to give it some historical reference by discussing how photography influenced fine art painting and then tying that back into how fine art has conversely influenced my photography.


The influence of photography on subject matter in fine art from the mid to late 1800’s can be seen in the way painters changed their style of painting beginning with Impressionism and then moving forward until the present day. The camera’s ability to record and document movement in blur was a new way to see people or objects in action in the world.


The naked eye sees movement as a fluid act and doesn’t slow down movement in the same way a slow shutter speed freezes action as blur. Blurred movement captured by a slow shutter speed gave artists a new way to see their world in a way the human eye couldn’t interpret it. Legs in movement were blurred. Ghost like images of a horse or carriage moving were painted the same as the photograph interpreted them. Fine artists used photographs as static references for their art work, and they took the element of blur from photographs and depicted their subjects with the same visual effect.


Aaron Scharf in his book Art and Photography, 1968, describes in detail how photography influenced the perspective of fine artists starting with Impressionism through Cubism to the era of Abstract Expressionism. Monet, for example, in the Boulevard de Capucines 1873, painted the street scene as a photo might have captured it. Bodies were blurred, legs painted in movement instead of standing still. The human eye doesn’t have the ability to see or capture the blurred movements as a camera with a slow shutter speed can. So photos making their way to fine art affected directly the depiction of action and figures in fine art.


How does this relate to Macro Expressionism’s idea of emphasizing non-representational subject matter? Because photography influenced painting and drawing to move toward more abstract subject matter over the decades following the 1800’s. Abstract painting, which evolved from Impressionism, Cubism and other forms of painting and conceptual art, was influenced by photography. For me the evolution of my style of photography is a result of my preference of abstract art over realistic subject matter.


Artists such as Rothko and the Color Field painters moved away from somewhat realistic imagery to pure color and form as the subject. Anatomy, street scenes, pastoral images and so forth disappeared from their work. In the same way my aim is to make my photos abstractions and depict non-representational subject matter (above).


Macro Expressionism presents the world from a subjective, abstract point of view.  One way to achieve this is by creating opportunities for calculated accidents which transform the subject matter.  The goal is to represent with the camera a point of view which conveys feeling, atmosphere, mood, or a point of view which expresses action, movement or intangible qualities which representational artwork or photography does not.


When one learns to use the camera it’s mostly with the intent to take snapshots of the known. As my work evolved and I began to hone in on what was relevant to me, a style of imagery began to emerge. As I enjoyed the result of what looked accidents of focus, f-stop, or shutter speed I began to let the camera become a new paint brush with which to create images. Subtle abstractions began to creep into my photos, but over time I taught myself manipulate and experiment with imagery to create color fields, movement and to really affect what traditional photographers would consider accidents.


The purpose of my photography is to capture the micro world from a subjective approach and not a representational approach but emphasize color, form and the other elements of design. I compare macro expressionism to fine art because the goal of my work is to create a work of fine art – to create a visual experience and not just a representation of a scene.


I use my camera as a paint brush to re-present an object. I don’t just replicate static details in tack sharp focus or increase their size to a 1:1 perspective. I try to create color fields or abstractions in which color, shape, form, line, depth of field, negative and positive spaces are emphasized artistically. The role of art on photography can be seen not only in my work but in the work of other artist photographers who choose to depict shape, form, color and line creatively and not just “photo-realistically”.


Accepting that I prefer to shoot non-representational subject matter has become my focus. My goal is to make visually appealing what other photographers would normally delete from their memory card. And with that, I came up with the concept of Macro Expressionism and have worked to define it so that it has a place in the world of photography.

Need more inspiration? Brooks Jensen will inspire your work. Pick up one of his books to elevate your photography mind!

Carlin Felder Author Biography

The Creative Process and Macro Expressionism

Notes on Creativity:

If you aren’t familiar with the ICEDIP Creative Process let me share it briefly here.

I probably learned this in high school or college, and forgot the details, but I know in my work as a design and photography professional that the below is an outline which happens naturally.

Sometimes people like to jump ahead to perspiration without the clarification and evaluation… but don’t.

Let the process flow naturally and you will find your ideas are more successful.


I = Inspiration – the idea generation phase, the gathering phase

C = Clarification – the honing in and asking yourself how to utilize the ideas generated

E = Evaluation – review the work in progress and group ideas in order of strength

D = Distillation – choose the best of the best ideas and begin to focus

I = Incubation – walk away and let the ideas marinate in your subconscious

P – Perspiration – work and rework on the idea through multiple drafts until you find the final solution which best represents the initial question which brought you to the creative process


The gist of the ICEDIP is to come up with ideas, find one of the better ideas, take a look at it,  let your mind wander, and to perspire (sweat profusely) by putting meat on the ideas bones.

I think my list in the prior post and the ICEDIP list can be melded and mingled.

Read through both and then create your own modus operandi.

Follow a path which helps you thrive.

Creativity isn’t just for artists, photographers, engineers, builders and makers.

It’s for everyone who needs to solve a problem and work on creative solutions.

As a photographer I find that the creative process is part of what helped me define my style of Macro Photography – Macro Expressionism. I spent many years enjoying close-up photography but questioning myself as a photographer because what I personally liked didn’t seem viable in the broader world of popular photography.

In 2012 I wrote a blog post and named my style as Macro Expressionism. It was an off-hand comment about my subject matter but it was something I felt strongly about and would practice from time to time.

For the next 2 years I waffled in relation to my confidence as an abstract photographer – and I questioned the validity of focusing on color field photography and abstract macro photography as a legit subject matter.

But I would Google the term Macro Expressionism from time to time and found that I was the only one with that term out defined. So, I wrote a book this year – a short short book, a treatise & manifesto – to describe where my thoughts had evolved to over the 2 years since I wrote my first blog post.

For me the creative process in relation to Macro Expressionism took several years to solidify enough to write intelligently about it. Since then I have begun to formulate more ideas which put more meat on the bones of the concept.

The next step in the creative process is to publish an expansion of the manifesto and explain the process I use to create my abstract macro photos – my color field photography – my macro expressionism.


For more on ICEDIP

Need more inspiration? Brooks Jensen will inspire your work. Pick up one of his books to elevate your photography mind!

Carlin Felder Author Biography

July 4th Macros

Reposted from July 2012:

4th-047My love for macro photography shouldn’t be a secret if you keep up with my blog. Beautiful panoramas are the stuff motivational posters and Art Wolfe nature calendars are made of, but this style of work isn’t for me.

I love to be face deep into a bush looking for the nook or cranny that can grab and hold my attention.

July 4th I went to a state park I love out west in New Jersey–Allamuchy State Park. It has great biking trails, streams and a lake, Lake Cranberry. The sun was high because it was mid-morning to early afternoon when I was shooting so the saturation of color was bleached, but I’ve added a sepia overlay to the photos for tone enhancement.4th-165


Need more inspiration? Brooks Jensen will inspire your work. Pick up one of his books to elevate your photography mind!

Carlin Felder Author Biography

A Macro Expressionist Is…

macro roseThe action of pointing the camera at an object and depressing the shutter takes the moment of viewing the mundane to the level of visual archivist. The photograph becomes permanent witness to a finite moment in time.

A Macro Expressionist bears witness to the unseen.

A Macro Expressionist, through the process of discovery in the environment, reveals the infinite landscape of the undiscernible to the naked eye by means of close-up photography. However, more than bearing witness to a landscape hidden from the naked eye, a Macro Expressionist subjectively extracts from the environment content which is not completely representational.

Whereas a Macro photographer, in the purist form, aims to represent the minutea objectively – to portray a realistic depiction of the unseen – in a “big picture” kind of way, the aim of Macro Expressionism is to overlay the photographer’s visual aesthetic upon the micro environment to create a work of art representing the photographer’s point of view.

As a Macro Expressionistic photographer, my form of photography is meditative act. It is calming to sink into the viewfinder into a subject and discover imagery that I cannot see with my eyes alone. The result is a synthesis of my struggle to discover content, to overcome the limitations of my equipment and to express my point of view artistically.

Need more inspiration? Brooks Jensen will inspire your work. Pick up one of his books to elevate your photography mind!

Carlin Felder Author Biography