Project 2 ‘Lens Work’

This part of the course reflects on the use of depth of field by photographers to illustrate their intentions.

‘ The most political decision you make is where to direct people’s eyes,’

( Wim Wenders(1997)quoted in Bromberg&Chanarin,2008)

Depth of field seems natural in a photograph because it imitates human binocular vision which allows us to perceive depth. But the acceptance of an object’ camera vision’ can be so automatic that it is easy to miss the subtle but interesting ways in which depth of field influences the way a photograph is read. by using shallow depth of field you have the ability to direct the viewers gaze to the point of focus. With deep depth of field you remove that direction; there is no point of focus as the whole image is sharp. This has been an important consideration in both photography and cinema as noted by the film theorist Andre Bazin

‘Deep focus gives the eye autonomy to roam over the picture space so that the viewer is at least given the opportunity to edit the scene himself to select the aspect of its to which he will attend’

(Bazin (1948) quoted in Thompson &Bordwell, 2007)

Research : Andre Bazin, Film Theorist.

For Ansel Adams ( 1902-1984) and the group F64, the position of the aperture was an important political as well as aesthetic choice, allowing photography to remain independent of ideological conventions of art and aesthetics that are reminiscent of a period and culture antedating the growth of the medium itself. The period and culture they struggled for independence from was the late nineteen the and early twentieth century photographic style of Pictorialism and before that paintings( Wells 2009)

Research : Ansel Adams, Group F64 Manifesto, Pictorialism

Depth of Field was also a political decision for British Landscape photographer, Fay Godwin. Whose photobook ‘Our Forbidden land(1990) is credited with having helped change laws governing access to the countryside in Britain. The sense of expansive but restricted space in the photograph, communicated through Godwin’s use of deep depth of field, presents the message of the book in a subtle visual way.

Research: Fay Godwin, deep depth of field images, Political photography.

Gianluca Cosci Inverts Godwin’s approach by using an extremely shallow depth of field in his series ‘ Panem et Circenses’. Slivers of sharpness express the effect of corporate power on the experience of urban space. Shallow depth of field shots can have a freshness and vitality to them , they represent a simple and attractive aesthetic statement making this one of the favoured techniques of lifestyle and advertising photographers.

Contemporary food photographers provide a wealth of examples of shallow depth of fields  , see supermarket magazines.

Research: Gianluca Cosci, ‘Panem et Circense’, food photography.

In her ‘Evidence’ series Mona Kuhn seeks to represent the unclothed body as a natural essence of who we are, soft focus has long been associated with memories and reverie

Research: Mona Kuhn, Evidence series, Reverie

Kim Kirkpatrick explores the aesthetic possibilities of shallow depth of field to re-imagine abandoned industrial sites in the American landscapes. In his portfolio there is a series entitled ‘ Early work’. In these images he manages a fine balance of areas of focus and blur within the frame.

Research: Kim Kirkpatrick, Early work, Abandoned Industrial landscapes.

Because human vision doesn’t normally see the world in deep focus, the effect of total depth of field in a photograph can be used to create psychological tension. Fashion photographer Guy Bourdin(1928-1991) consciously played with the artificiality of the image.

‘ …….its gloss rather than its reality’

(Brooks(1981) in Cotton&Verthime 2003)

Bourdin photographed everyday scenes in a way which suggests an intense psychological situation. The exact source of the unease is impossible to pin down to any specific point with in the frame.

Research: Guy Bourdin, artificiality, Brooks, Cotton& Verthime, Examples of psychological unease in photographic form.

Research Point

We were asked to look back at our own personal archive and find images that illustrated one of the aesthetic codes discussed above.  The image I’ve selected below relates to Fay Godwin and Ansel Adams aesthetics code.

This image was taken a couple of years ago when we were beach fishing in Ajman, which is another Emirate in the U.A.E. This stretch of beach was closed off to the public as it was undergoing construction, you can see the construction boarding’s going off into the distance on the right.  It disgusted me at the amount of wasted plastic bottles which had washed up on the shoreline. So I took this image with the intention of sending it into the local newspaper to maybe to encourage a clean up. My depth of field decision was political as I remember thinking I need a low viewpoint and I need to show the massive quantity and the whole line of these empty bottles.

Waste plastic bottles on the beach


This image was in my archives as well, this has a shallow depth of field , I remember taking this and loving the pattern and texture of the sand leftover from when it had rained. Even though the rain had gone the effect was still there. The mixture of sand and water over time eventually causing rust. My friends thought it looked like a burnt rice cake.

I took both these images along time ago and all this photographic research has made me look at these images differently.



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