Research: Project 2 Lens work – Guy Bourdin

Guy Bourdin was a french fashion photographer who had great success in the 1970s. He created a style of imagery that effectively captured a surreal quality partly due to the hyper-real colour pallette that he used, but also through his use of front to back depth of field. Literally everything is in focus and this permits the eye to take in a lot of detail in the image.

“Deep focus give the eye autonomy to roam over the picture space so that the viewer is at leat given the opportunity to edit the scene himself, to select the aspects of it to which he will attend.” – Bazin (1948) quoted in Thompson & Bordwell, 2007

In some of his images, the depth of the image is limited by a close background so the deep focus is compressed by a shallow image stage, in others the there is a deeper image as the background is further away, but we often uses props to create the effect of a theatre stage backdrop or series of backdrops so there isn’t a natural gradual receding background but rather a number of staged, parallel backdrops, each further away from the previous providing a discrete stepping of distance rather an analogue recession.  This creates an unusual sense of drama in his images, a sense of other worldliness that transcends our every day experience of the world as we usually perceive it. This use of deep focus, colour and staged background makes his images both compelling and unsettling to view. He almost anticipates the digital age, though he died, in  1991 well before its advent.

Below is a photograph I took using deep focus and a slightly surreal image of a phone box on a beach. It was a hot summer and the colours are strong which gives an edgy feel enhanced by the deep focus.  I use a Nikon D70 with a 50mm f1.4 lens at f13.  I could not find anything comparable with people in my personal archive.


Images

  1. Guy Bourdin courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery at https://www.michaelhoppengallery.com/artists/30-guy-bourdin/overview/#/artworks/10379 – accessed February 2018
  2. Mark Owen-Ward (2010)

Bibliography

Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, pp.48-51

Research: Project 2 Lens work – Mona Kuhn

In Project 2 of Part 2, we are encouraged to research the varying depth of field  chosen by various photographers to understand the effect on the viewer of different lens technique and on occasion the political impact of choosing either a shallow or a deep depth of field.

“The most political decision you can make is where you direct people’s eyes.” – Wim Wenders (1997) quoted in Bromberg & Chanarin, 2008

Mona Kuhn is  a photographer who seems to prefer the use of shallow depth of field. Whereas “soft focus” has in the past been a cliched technique used in portraiture to romanticise and feminise, presenting an unrealistic and flawless view of the subject, often female, Kuin uses selective focus to create a sense of intimacy between the viewer and the subject.

In her “Evidence” series, Kuhn uses both reflection and depth of field to great effect to draw us closer to the subject – in one example the focus is at the front of the image and in the background out of focus are  pair of nude figures in close proximity. This creates the sense of great intimacy and mystery and of a feeling of us being in the room and somehow part of the scene, yet not as a voyeur but as part of the image. She portrays beautiful people as her website suggests, perhaps as part of a”utopian community” of which the viewer/photographer appears, at least briefly, to be a part.  It is clear that the photographer is presenting her beliefs in her imagery, perhaps that one based on a more collective and sensual approach to life in clear contrast to the nuclear family model which is the societal norm in the west.

In interview in Issue Magazine (online) Kuhn talks about being “drawn to nudes as timeless forms” but also mentions being introduced to the naturist community in France where “Nudity is perceived as free and natural. It reflects a basic understanding of freedom and respect that I have not seen anywhere else.”

Clearly her images point to her own personal experience, her belief in nudity as freedom and her perception of the nude as an interesting form in itself.  Her images are not overtly sexual, which whilst not ignored, is not the intention of her photography.

In contrast, the photographer Rineke Dijkstra, has taken nude images of women who have recently given birth.  The images, in The Photograph As Contemporary Art, are far removed from the mysterious sensuality of Kuhn’s imagery.  Dijkstra takes full length portraits of her subjects with full depth of field and straight on.  There is no suggestion or attempt to portray sensuality – instead she show s an “unsentimental approach to maternity” that portrays the reality of the impact of pregnancy on women, yet also shows the instinctive protective and nurturing care towards their newborn children.

The different use of depth of field by each of these photographers creates a very different experience for the viewer.  Both techniques are creative but I wonder whether as a photographer they are mutually exclusive, but which I mean do you have to choose one path or the other or is it possible to use both techniques within a single voice?

Below is a photograph I took some years ago of my then very young daughter using an old Pentax ME Super film camera.  I remember the shot was taken on a 50mm lens at f1.7 (the maximum aperture).  The negative was then scanned. This uses a shallow depth of field for maximum effect!


Images

  1. Mona Kuhn, Evidence portfolio courtesy of https://www.monakuhn.com/portfolio/works/, accessed February 2018
  2. Mark Owen-Ward (2007)

Bibliography

  1. Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, pp.48-51
  2. https://www.monakuhn.com/portfolio/works/, accessed February 2018
  3. http://issuemagazine.com/mona-kuhn/, accessed February 2018
  4. Cotton, C (2004), The Photograph As Contemporary Art, Thames & Hudson, pp. 112-113