In this posting, I look at some examples of the creative use of shallow depth of field, which has the effect of isolating details and directing the eye.
One photographer who takes this to extremes is Gianluca Cosci (website here) Three of his projects use the device in some form.
‘Hidden’ is comparatively conventional, having mostly focused building facades revealed behind a much closer and out-of-focus corner of a nearer building. Occasionally, this is reversed and it is the nearer detail that is in focus.
Many of the images in ‘Fragments’ and ‘Panum et Circenses’ (referencing Juvenal’s comment about Roman emperors’ ploys to keep the populace happy) show a very thin sliver of sharp focus close to the camera while the majority of the image is given over to focus blur. (Incidentally, the example given in the course notes is from ‘Fragments’) Oddly, the sharp zones do not appear to be the main subject (in one case it is a slice of paving) but some of the blur appears familiar. In ‘Panum et Circenses’ I recognised Canary Wharf and the Churchill statue in Parliament Square. The reason for the treatment is not obvious on first viewing but Cosci explains it thus (on the Statement page of his website), “I am interested in the point of view of the loser, the marginalised. Often we are forced to have only restricted views, uncomfortable to maintain. In spite of this, I believe that one can take advantage of this apparent fault and use it to observe and understand things in a different, unexpected way.” Certainly, the photographic style gives his restricted and uncomfortable views.
Mona Kuhn (website here) produces large-scale photographs of the human form, usually nude. The images are not erotic or particularly romantic, but show her subjects at ease with themselves. The example below is from her first book, ‘Photographs’
In this image we focus on the woman’s face, particularly her eye and we are aware that she is nude (or at least ‘implied nude’) and that there is a naked man in the background. Only the woman’s eye, nose and mouth are sharply focused; the ear and most of her hair are distinctly unsharp and the background man is almost an abstract shape. In other images, she uses the same device as Cosci (although less extreme) with the main subject blurred and a seemingly trivial foreground object in focus, which gives a more dreamlike interpretation.
Kim Kirkpatrick (website here) is a landscape photographer specialising in ‘pictures where nature and man meet, where one is taking over the other’ (Kirkpatrick 2001, reported on Wikipedia). In examples of his early work he contrasts sharp foreground details with blurred backgrounds.
In this example a window-blind pull suggests the presence of a window and we see some form of construction outside. In another, it is a twig and leaf that are in focus an a window seen beyond.
The same selective-focus device is often seen in sports photography but, in that case, it is a by-product of selecting a fast shutter speed to freeze action thus requiring a wide aperture to compensate.
Cosci, G. (s.d.) Gianluca Cosci Visual Art [online] at: http://www.gianlucacosci.com (accessed 9 April 2016)
Kirkpatrick, K. (s.d.) Kim Kirkpatrick :: Early Work [online] at: http://kimkirkpatrick.com/GalleryMain.asp?GalleryID=97163&AKey=FGWAF5R9 (accessed on 11 April 2016)
Kuhn, M. (s.d.) Mona Kuhn [online] at: http://www.monakuhn.com
Wikipedia (2016) Kim Kirkpatrick [online] at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Kirkpatrick (accessed on 11 April 2016)