Part 2 – project 2 – lenswork


Do your own research into some of the photographers mentioned in this project.

Look back at your personal archive of photography and try to find a photograph that could be used to illustrate one of the aesthetic codes discussed in Project 2. Whether or not you had a similar idea when you took the photograph isn’t important; find a photo with a depth of field that ‘fits’ the code you’ve selected. The ability of photographs to adapt to a range of usages is something we’ll return to later in the course.

Add the shot to your learning log and include a short caption describing how you’ve re-imagined your photograph.

Mona Kuhn

According to her website:

Mona Kuhn is best known for her large-scale, dream-like photographs of the human form. Her work often reference classical themes with a light and insightful touch.  Kuhn’s approach to her photography is unusual in that she usually develops close relationships with her subjects, resulting in images of remarkable naturalness and intimacy, and creating the effect of people naked but comfortable in their own skin.

The course notes direct us in particular to her Evidence series where her use of shallow depth of field is most obvious. These photos strongly demonstrate the intimacy and dream-like nature of a shallow depth of field. The models seem relaxed and completely at ease and the effect is very intimate as if we’ve been granted a chance to view a private moment. The effect would have been completely different with a deep depth of field.

Mona Kuhn

Mona Kuhn

A number of images in Evidence show multiple models with selective depth of field as shown above. The sharply focused foreground model provides detail and a resting point for the eye, while the out of focus models in the background provide interest. It’s interesting to note that the eyes of the foreground model are angled towards the background models suggesting a stronger link than if, for example, the foreground model had been looking directly into the camera.

Kim Kirkpatrick

According to Kirkpatrick’s website, his early photographs “have carefully controlled focus, minimal depth of field, with the majority of each image soft and out of focus. These are highly subjective photographs and through the use of color, tight focus and composition the viewer is directed to that which is important”.

The following three (selected from only five available on the website) nicely illustrate his approach in this series.

What I find interesting about these three in particular is not only the use of shallow depth of field, but how the out of focus background is also composed and how the foreground object intersects or interacts with the background. This isn’t the case with the whole series and these three best show the effect of depth of field. The choice of aperture is carefully done – it’s not just a case of setting the lens at its widest aperture. The depth of field is chosen so that it’s possible to make out what the background is, but details are lost. These photographs contrast with Kirkpatrick’s more recent work which is done with a 8×10 view camera. These later photos show great perspective control, but do not show the radical use of depth of field as shown in the above examples.

It’s also interesting to see how the idea of “memories and reverie” mentioned in the course notes given by a shallow depth of field also carries over to landscape photographs. It’s easy to see intimacy in Kuhn’s photos where people are involved,  but quite another to see it in the objects selected by Kirkpatrick.

Gianluca Cosci

In the course notes, the Panem et Circenses series by Gianluca Cosci is given as an example of the use of shallow depth of field to “express the effect of corporate power on the experience of urban space”.

Gianluca Cosci "Senza Titolo #2" 2004

Gianluca Cosci “Senza Titolo #2” 2004

The photographs in this series are characterised by very low viewpoints, selective focusing and (probably) the use of a view camera or a tilt-shift lens. The end result is a shallow depth of field which gives an air of unreality and in some cases a feeling of looking at a model landscape rather than a real one. In many cases, the zone of sharp focus is placed some distance into the image (making me think more of a tilted lens) so the effect from foreground through middle ground to background is blurred, sharp, blurred. Using a slice of sharp focus in this way strongly directs the eye within the image and holds it there. It’s quite educational how very ordinary everyday objects take on a new significance with this kind of effect.

Cosci’s approach in this series seems to relate very strongly to assignment 2 – especially to the “Views” option with a particular focus on urban views.

Research Point

I believe that the following photo from my own work illustrates the aesthetic of using a shallow depth of field. My image follows the Cosci model of placing the zone of sharp focus within the scene and not just on what is in the immediate foreground, but I don’t have the benefit of a tilt lens. Of course, software exists these days to go some way to reproducing the tilt lens effect, but somehow that seems to be cheating …

Baby Carriage, Humilly d'Amont, France 2014

Baby Carriage, Humilly d’Amont, France 2014

I chose this approach consciously because I felt that the abandoned baby carriage had an air of sadness and desolation. To me, the aesthetic of “memories and reverie” fits very well with the subject matter and the idea of past lives and dreams.

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