Lens work 1 – deep field

Project 2 introduces us to two very different groups of photographers, those who express themselves with detailed images and deep field of focus, and those who use shallow depth of field to isolate details and direct our attention. This posting looks at some who employ maximum depth of field.

The examples given are the f/64 Group and Fay Godwin, although I believe they  used the style for different reasons.

F/64 was a 1930s group of (initially 11) photographers including Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham, ‘… striving to define photography as an art form by simple and direct presentation through purely photographic methods. … Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form.’ (Group f/64 Manifesto, 1932, quoted in Wikipedia). The group’s name derives from the smallest aperture available on a 10×8″ large-format camera at the time. Their subjects were primarily landscapes or close-ups of items from the landscape such as pieces of driftwood, but the same treatment was applied to industrial items, nudes and other subjects not obviously related to landscape. The intention was to render their subjects as faithfully, and in as great detail, as possible. The examples below are an untitled nude by Weston and ‘Winter Yosemite Valley’ by Adams, both from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.

Weston was scathing of the Pictorialist school of photography in an essay ‘Seeing Photographically‘ (original s.d., collected in Trachtenberg 1980, 169-175) in which he notes that the early photographers, having no artistic tradition of their own, borrowed a ready-made style from painting. ‘The approach adopted was so at variance with the real nature of the medium employed that each basic improvement in the process became just one more obstacle for the photo-painters to overcome’. He was particularly rude about the use of texture screens, handwork on negatives and ‘ready-made rules of composition’ (It would be interesting to see his reaction to some of the heavily-Photoshopped images that seem popular in some modern camera clubs).

F/64 was, therefore an attempt to liberate the camera as a picture-making instrument in its own right, capable of establishing its own identity and own creative traditions. The group did not survive the Great Depression, but its influence remains.

Fay Godwin was a rambler (President of the Ramblers Association 1987-90), environmentalist and self-taught landscape photographer. Most of her images were made on medium-format monochrome film and were noted for their clarity, composition and control of total value; also for her tenacity and determination. As noted in an Amateur Photographer article (Clark, 2010), “When someone once remarked to her that she had been lucky to catch the ideal cloud formations in a particular picture she quickly replied, ‘I didn’t “catch” it. I sat down and waited three days for it.'”

The image above is from Godwin’s book Our Forbidden Land (1990) which deals with the British landscape and (pulling no punches with names and details) the way that tracts of it were affected by pollution, development or lack of access. Apart from some photos showing signs in the introduction, the images are detailed and sharp from front to back. Conventionally beautiful landscape images are interspersed with ‘shockers’ in a way that mirrors the detail and shock value of the text.

The deep-focus presentation invites the viewer to look at the entire image, without obviously being directed to particular points. Although inviting at first, it can become tiring on viewing a lot of images at one sitting if the eye has nowhere to rest.

References

Clark, D. (2010) Fay Godwin 1931-2005 – Iconic Photographer [online] at: http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/technique/fay-godwin-1931-2005-iconic-photographer-18907 (accessed on 6 April 2016)

Godwin, F. (1990) Our Forbidden Land London: Jonathan Cape Ltd

Hostetler, L. (2004) Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History – group f/64 [online] at: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/f64/hd_f64.htm (accessed on 6 April 2016)

Trachtenberg, A.(ed) (1980) Classic Essays on Photography Sedgwick ME: Leete’s Island Books

Wikipedia (2016) Group f/64 [online] at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_f/64 (accessed on 6 April 2016)

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