Three Things I Learnt From Abstract: The Art of Design – Episode 3

Episode 3 of Art of Abstract is about Es Devlin who is an award-winning stage designer who has collaborated with likes of Kanye West, Beyonce, U2 and also designed the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.

I’m not going to lie about it – out of three episodes so far, this is the one that I definitely struggled with the most to make it relatable to fine art photography. It probably didn’t help that I saw this episode at ungodly hour 2 am in morning. Despite this, I still think there were few key lessons from the episode.


At the start of the episode, Es commented that her practice over the years has been to follow the path of inquiry and then find collaborators who are willing to share their paths with her.

To me, this means to follow our curiosities in our work. Follow along and see where it leads you. Use a different lens than you normally would. Or compose the scene differently. Get curious and experiment.


During the episode, Es stated 5 ingredients of stage design.. and perhaps photography?

Ingredient 1 – Space

Ingredient 2 – Light

Ingredient 3 – Darkness

Ingredient 4 – Scale

Ingredient 5 – Time

In photography, we use all the above ingredients to a small or large extent. Quite literally, light is the most important thing in photography. Where there is no light, there is no photograph. Better the quality of light, better the photograph generally is.

Probably the second most important thing in photography is time – measured in shutter speed.

Combine light and time and we have a photograph. We then use all the other ingredients to tell the stories that we want through the photograph.


For Watch The Throne tour featuring Kanye West and Jay-Z, Es questioned what the word Throne meant to the artists. For them, Throne was being on top and then having to fight to stay on top – in other words, the Throne meant the tension between power and vulnerability.

To explore that idea of the tension between power and vulnerability and to communicate that to the audience, she decided to have the artists performing on massive video cubes showing sharks and Rottweilers.

The height of the cubes played to the narrative of being powerful – but the sharks and Rottweilers circling on the video underneath the artist played to the narrative of being vulnerable. Beautiful.

This episode was stranger than I thought I would be but I do feel enriched for having seen it.

This post is part of a series. You can read about the other episodes by clicking the links below.

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 2: Tinker Hatfield

Abstract: Art of Design – Episode 1: Christoph Niemann

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