In art, “photorealism” refers to painted art that attempts to depict a physical object realistically (e.g., like it is in real life). A “photograph” attempts the same thing using glass and chemicals and/or electronics. By contrast, “abstract art” refers to artworks that deliberately do not depict external reality.

“Abstract | Composite No. 1” The first abstract image Rob Lancaster created with his layering process. Credit: Rob Lancaster

Rob Lancaster is a photographer who has recently begun a new project creating “abstract photography” artworks. You might think that phrase sounds like a contradiction in terms, but Lancaster’s process shows why it’s not.

A continuing first step to the abstract art is Lancaster and his wife and son always being on the lookout for found objects around Evanston, and occasionally Chicago, that he might wish to photograph. Lancaster always carries a camera for immediate shots but will also return to an interesting object to shoot a better photo.

The family is looking for items that have a variety of characteristics. Lancaster wants something with lots of texture and some color, but not too much. Some neutral color is good, with open or negative space. With time he has found that he often finds these characteristics around waste dumpsters, overpasses and alleyways. His young son says, “Dad. That’s rusty. You’d like that,” and his wife has a keen eye for dumpsters.

Photographer Rob Lancaster standing in front of a storage container with peeling paint, which was used to create “Abstract | Composite No. 1.” Credit: Rob Lancaster

As a stay-at-home dad, Lancaster’s time substantially freed up recently when his son started school, providing him more time to go out and shoot. Lancaster usually has a considered purpose before he goes out, often helped along with reconnaissance from his family. That purpose determines the camera and lens to he takes that day. Once he leaves the house, he does not want to fiddle with changing lenses or switching cameras. He only wants to focus on taking the photos.

During the evening, Lancaster reviews the images taken that day. He doesn’t have a studio and just sits in his armchair with his computer. He picks four or five images that meet his criteria and then uploads the images into Photoshop. Each will result in a separate final product. He does not merge them together, but will work on all of them separately during the same evening.

“Composite Series MkII | No. 1”: Instead of one or two layers, this new series of images contains close to 100. Credit: Rob Lancaster

In Photoshop, he selects a portion of the photo and begins to move it around. He might flip it over or rotate it 90 degrees. Lancaster creates layers by placing the same image on top of itself one or more times to create an abstract image. While the image originally showed a physical object, it has now developed into an abstraction and may not seem like the object at all. It now is a mixture of color, space, texture, and lines. The real photo is now an abstract art photo.

“Composite Series MkII | No. 2.” Credit: Rob Lancaster

With growing experience, Lancaster can determine quickly if the image is successful. If he isn’t sure, he will return to it in one to two days. And he may delete the image if not satisfied.

After completing the evening’s images, he then ports them over to Adobe Lightroom software to complete the final edits for contrast, color check, and cropping.
He shares the final images on social media and prints and mats the ones he especially likes or those he receives good responses to online. These are put in plastic photo bags and are ready to sell. Lancaster only prints and sells each image once. So, like an artist selling an original painting, every image is unique.

“Twin Suns.” Credit: Rob Lancaster

Lancaster once produced a 100-day project where he took a photo daily with a different theme for each week. During that 100 days was when he first realized that within his neighborhood, while it seems familiar, there is always something new to see and appreciate. His abstract art project is reinforcing this insight once again.

He notes, “Interesting, beautiful things are everywhere, if you just look.”

If you would like to learn more about Rob Lancaster, visit his website at, his Instagram page at @RLancasterphotography, or see
items for sale at

Jean Cunningham

Jean Cunningham retired from the business world and is now enjoying the next phase, including writing about local artists to increase awareness of Evanston’s amazing art community.

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