abstract tree photograph Abstract photographs provide a unique opportunity to connect the concrete, visible world of our surroundings with the subtle, imaginal world of the psyche and the soul. Abstract photography serves as a bridge between our ordinary world and the imaginal world. As an abstract photographer with a strong interest in Analytical Psychology, I see a number of connections between abstract photography and concepts such as the psychoid, active imagination, and multiple levels of reality.

Photography is an inherently representational medium, since you're always photographing some part of this world. The creation of abstract photographs requires additional effort to get beyond the inherent representationality. For example, you can isolate things from their ordinary context, photograph at a very small or very large scale, use alternative photographic processes, or use layers and multiple exposures. What is common to all these approaches, however, is seeing things in a different way, and finding the mysteries hidden in the mundane. You don't have to go to another continent to find amazing beauty, or retreat from your surroundings by closing your eyes and going into the realm of pure imagination. Instead, the mysteries are hidden all around us, in lowly manhole covers, electric wires, and the simplest tree. We just need a different way of seeing besides ordinary sight.

This alternate way of seeing goes by many names. Some call it the mind's eye. Ansel Adams called it pre-visualization. Ibn 'Arabi, the great Sufi mystic from the 12th century, called it creative imagination. As for what is seen with that other sight, many people refer to it as just 'imaginary', implying that it's a fantasy, not real in any sense. Many abstract artists feel that it is real, though they may not have a name for it. The painter Josef Albers, for example, said that abstraction is probably more real than nature. Ibn 'Arabi describes a complex series of imaginal worlds that are between the ordinary world of our sensory perceptions and the completely abstract world of ideas and revelations, one of these intermediate worlds being a level between spirit and body. This level is referred to as the psychoid in Analytical Psychology, where matter becomes spirit and spirit becomes matter.

These imaginal worlds are just as real as our ordinary world, though made of a subtle form of matter, so they can only be perceived through various types of imagination. Regardless of what you call these imaginal worlds, they are in some sense real. Abstract photographs may not look literally like anything from this world, as they are bridges crossing the thin veil that separates the mundane world of our surroundings from the mysterious, imaginal world of the soul and psyche.

To read more about Ryan's approach to abstract photography, you can read his paper Abstract Photography: A Bridge to Imaginal Worlds, which he presented at the 2012 Art & Psyche conference in New York.