Project 2: Lens Work

Deep Depth of Field

The coursework says of Guy Bourdin  ‘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 within the frame.’ (OCA, 2016:51)

I find myself perplexed by this claim, as his images appear to feature surreal situations and people/objects, which are quite obviously the focus of unease. For example, you have three female legs, tied up, laying on a railway track.  https://www.louise-alexander.com/wp-content/uploads/11496-ART-01D-GB.jpg (Bourdin, 1970)

Yes, there is use of deep depth of field, and this can create an unnatural atmosphere in an image, but I disagree with the choice of Bourdin’s work as an example of this, for clearly, his features more specific and obvious elements that create the unease.

Of Bourdin’s work, I’d say his impact is in taking the imagery of fashion photography, and exaggerating it, with surreal elements. These are not every day scenes, in  the sense that you’re very unlikely to stumble across them in your day to day life, but it could be argued that you might come across such scenes in a magazine in a waiting room (assuming you don’t buy such things yourself)… but with a twist.

On the idea of deep depth of field creating a sense of unease… I can relate to this description, having created just such a feeling, by accident, in my own work.

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This image creates a strange sensation in me that I have been unable to put my finger on. Initially I believed it to be the positioning of the blue car, or maybe the wide angle of the lens, but my reading today leads me to believe the deep depth of field may be a major part of this feeling.

 

Shallow Depth of Field

Looking at Mona Kuhn‘s Evidence series (the link in the coursework is dead, so I found a video of her series book here https://vimeo.com/92491074 (Kuhn, 2007)) I feel the shallow depth of feel has a twofold effect in terms of intimacy.

In the way that it mimics the workings of the human eye, the feeling is very natural, the viewer feels themself in the scene, and among the models. Given that the models are naked enhances this sense of intimacy.

There seems also to be another effect… one of detachment and distancing. The blurring of areas and people within the scenes means the viewer can never quite see everything there is to see. This is accentuated by the inclusion of reflections in some images, putting yet another barrier between the viewer and the subject matter.

To me, this combination of intimacy, and forced distancing creates a feeling of tension. I feel both the allure of the closeness, but also repelled by it (I don’t like being around people)… and then frustrated by the distancing created by the partial obscuring through blur and glass…. but also somehow relieved by it.  I want to get closer! I want to run away!

Doug Stockdale (2011) says of Kuhn’s use of depth of field…

‘ There is more of sense of closeness conveyed by the proximity of the subjects to her lens, and the positions of the subjects amongst themselves. It does not appear to be always an easy  or comfortable relationship, with the viewpoint moving forward, then backing off, the focus shifting to other object emerging between us, the viewer, and her subjects. Likewise, her subjects are not always in the focus, sometimes sharply delineated, other times shifting to the background, becoming hazy, indistinct and less personable.’

Looking at my own work, while this first image (below) has a blurred background, the depth of field is not what I would call super shallow, so there is not a great sense of intimacy.

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This one (below) on the other hand has a depth of field that is so shallow, not even all of my face is in perfect focus. The effect is one of feeling very close, and it’s just as well I’m (almost) smiling in the photo, or it could potentially feel very uncomfortable to look at.

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Reference

Bourdin, G. (1970) multi colour tights tied up legs train track. At: https://www.louise-alexander.com/wp-content/uploads/11496-ART-01D-GB.jpg (Accessed on 14/12/2016)

Kuhn, M (2007) Evidence. At: https://vimeo.com/92491074 (Accessed on 14.12.2016)

Open College of the Arts (2016) Photography One: Expressing Your Vision. Barnsley

Stockdale, D (2011) Mona Kuhn Evidence. At: https://thephotobook.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/mona-kuhn-evidence/ (Accessed on 14/12/2016)