Andy Abraham Canada conceptual photography contemporary art Datlas Erre Elizabeth Koetje experimental photography photo art portrait art portrait photography



// Andy is a self-taught photographer, writer, and poet, based in Oakville, Canada. He is passionate about earth science, the environment, and biodiversity, and is constantly learning to understand today’s continuum of social and mental health issues. For him, photography is an extension of his never-ending interest in the world around him, his continual desire to learn and experiment and to find new avenues for exploring our connection with nature.

By profession, Andy is actually a geologist. “As a geologist, I was trained to observe features and textures in rocks and to understand the processes that formed them. However, I also see rocks, and for that matter nature, as a reflection of who we are,” he says. “When I started creating these portraits it dawned on me that facial expressions and rock textures combine to tell the story of how geology, geodiversity, and the events that impact our lives are all interwoven. I am not an expert on social and mental health issues, so I spend considerable time delving into scientific journal articles and reaching out to friends and experts. Nowadays I look at rocks through a different lens. I explore them for their human connection and how the geological processes that created them might be analogous to the processes affecting our mental health; like geological processes, these can be positive and negative, continually change and can erode over time.”

“One of my relatives, who is an established artist, suggested that I refrain from providing an interpretation of my images as it is a lot of work and they can be interpreted in so many ways. While I agree that it is a lot of work, I believe these images need more than a title. So, I provide each one with a short geological interpretation and my thoughts on their similarity to mental health and well-being aspects.” We respect Andy´s desire to contextualise the pictures, and for this reason we have added his descriptions below the gallery for our readers.

In addition to creating these portraits, Andy has also expanded his photography to focus on today’s local and global environmental issues by creating ICM images combined with haikus that he writes himself. “My hope is that I can create greater awareness for protecting nature, and the struggles many have with mental health; ultimately using these images to support causes close to his heart,” he adds.

“We have the ability to overcome, recover, and bounce back from stress and trauma. We are not granite, but through the support of others our resilience shines.”

Andy Abraham

What draws you to the arts?

“Art has always been an incredible vehicle for education and enlightenment and it was an important component of my geological education and field work. Every detailed field sketch provided information and evidence for later reference and sometimes I would spend much longer than most creating those images. Every sketch provided a meditative break throughout each day and helped focus my mind on the rock’s story. Storytelling is integral to what I am creating and art inspires and challenges my imagination. I also love how other artists use textures and hues to resonate with our emotions and elicit memories. Almost every photo I have taken of rocks transports me back to the day and the conversations held on those outcrops.”

What do you like best about your project?

“What I like best about this project is that it has allowed me to explore the connection between geology and well-being and that it could be a catalyst to change people’s perception and understanding of mental health issues.”

Geologists use the term Lithofacies to describe the physical characteristics of a rock or sediment, such as the rock’s texture, composition, grain size, and depositional environment, a framework to characterize process-based interpretation of sediments, volcaniclastics, and rocks. Andy calls his project and images “Lithofaces” as he uses geological processes, features, and textures to highlight mappable impacts on our mental health and well-being.

“At least 50% of North Americans are impacted by mental illness in their lifetime. Even though its prevalence and health consequences are debilitating and can be life-threatening, the stigma still prevents many from openly discussing it with family, friends, and co-workers. These images were created to expose what we often fail to see, even when it is right in front of us. They were created to build awareness of the issues and highlight our connection to nature,” Andy explains. “Rocks are the result of processes that have built mountains, formed continents, and torn the earth apart. Their original textures form from the intergrowth, size variation, and layering of crystals, minerals, fragments, and fossils. New fabrics form when these are realigned, altered, and recrystallized during folding, fracturing, and flow within the earth’s crust. The physical, emotional, cultural, and environmental events that affect and define our lives can be subtle or cataclysmic, creating textures that mimic those seen in nature. The resulting complex, interwoven fabric that defines our character is re-shaped and recrystallized over time. It bears the scars of reactivated and healed faults formed during our lifetime and evolves as our relationships and environments change.”

In terms of the process Andy uses, it is not simply overlaying a rock image on someone’s face. “We have the ability to make more than 10,000 facial expressions, and I find that facial expression is essential as it relays an emotion. The position of the eyes as well as the angle of the pose are also important.” As to the rock images, he has taken hundreds of photos but finds only a few can be used. So he is always on the lookout for interesting rocks and finds the images he likes best are the ones with textural depth. Another challenge is colour because some hues do not work well at all. He takes time to find and align the textures that fit with the facial contours and features. Beautiful rock shots don’t always work with facial features and expressions. So just like the saying “the best geologist has seen the most rocks.” Andy needs a large number of rock photos to create the best images. “In the end, there is a lot of trial and error but that is part of the fun of creating these images,” he adds.

We recommend visiting Andy´s Instagram page not just to look at the photo art, but also to read his insightful text captions.

Click on the photos to see the original larger version. Clicking on the photo also reveals its title.

We are not granite; we are complex and multilayered. Our upbringing, where we live and life’s events leave their mark on our psyche and over time life’s stresses create and reopen faults and fractures that can lead to the erosion of our health and wellbeing.

Like rocks, our physical and mental character changes over time. Our educational and social systems alter our perception and mould us, while the physical and mental storms etch our spirit and influence the colour of our beliefs and ideas.

Via zones of least resistance, magma moves through the mantle and crust to form igneous bodies that conform to, disrupt, or assimilate the rocks they intrude. While normal and part of our human condition, intrusive thoughts disrupt our rational minds. In most cases they are ephemeral and minor, but for some they are overwhelming and consuming.

Rock deformation occurs at all levels of the Earth’s crust. The resulting fabrics and features are the natural expression of the transformation of original layers and crystals adapting to stress. Geologists see beauty rather than malformation and describe them as contorted, buckled, warped, or wrenched. Trauma and conflict warp and distort our perception of life and contort our belief in ourselves and others. Families are wrenched apart by these health issues every day.

Often found in rocks compressed under high stress within the earth’s crust, quartz-filled sigmoidal tension gashes form when compression is accompanied by high strains.
Many live their lives and work pressed for time, under the strain and stress of deadlines, duties, expectations, and conflict. Pulled in different directions, cracks appear in our facade and mental well-being, but they are filled with doubt, fear, and self-sabotage.

In many areas of the Earth’s crust, impeded flow of fluids creates intense pressure that produces localized catastrophic rock failure. Although instantaneously formed, these zones of weakness open and close with each seismic cycle of stress. The resulting damage zones record these events. Our flawed nature makes us susceptible to destructive influences and the local and global impact of today’s increasingly hostile and high stress environments. Many lack the strength and support to withstand the constant attrition. They and their families are left physically, mentally, and emotionally broken, shattered. It is only by ending the cycle of chronic stress, behaviour, and shame that we can hope to heal and limit future harm.

Like rocks, humans also exhibit non-Newtonian behaviour. Even though we adapt to different environments and stressors, the introduction of deleterious substances and abusive activities weakens our complex heterogeneous physical and mental composition. Over time, this diminishes our ability to reason and change. It reduces our emotional flexibility and damages our health and relationships. The telltale signs of the physical effects of stress are obvious in rocks and humans. However, because of our unique individuality the effects of stress on our well-being are often hidden and much harder to discern.

Fragments and older lithologies caught in upwelling magmas preserve evidence of their connection to the past and this process is a testament to the geological balance of nature. Fragments of our early life experiences lie deep within our memory and beneath the surface of our psyche’s shell. Whilst some can overwhelm and lead us along destructive paths, others can be complimentary. Positive traits and experiences are not the only foundations for building future success. Yang doesn’t have to defeat Yin; they are part of the same system. Our full potential is achieved through integrating and harnessing the energy created when we harmonize both. Thus, we evolve by creating balance in the flow of opposites and ultimately dissolving the Yin and Yang of life.

Over millennia, layer upon layer of sediments were laid down in ancient oceans. In some regions, fractures developed allowing fluids to pass through the folded lithified layers. Over time minerals precipitated and eventually healed these openings.

Many of us bear the physical and mental scars of healed fractures formed and reactivated as our relationships and environments change. While our minds and bodies have remarkable mechanisms for healing and regrowth, support from others is essential.

Cover triptych: RESILIENCE

Although considered as strong and unmovable, rocks also have the ability to adapt to changes in their environment and the forces acting upon them. They fracture, soften, flow and melt, and, throughout Earth’s geologically history they have rebounded after being buried beneath ice caps. We are called someone’s rock when we support, protect, and stand solidly with them against adversity. Our ability to change, overcome, recover, and bounce back from stress and trauma is often described as resilience. This tryptic is part of the AGO’s Online exhibit of over 3,000 images, Portraits of Resilience. #portraitsAGO 

All photos © ANDY ABRAHAM

Please visit Andy´s website to see more of this series and also his other work. Also check out his Instagram page.

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