In Defense of Depth (TOP)

Started Jun 21, 2012 | Discussions thread
400trix
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Re: In Defense of Depth (TOP)
In reply to knickerhawk, Jun 21, 2012

knickerhawk wrote:
A thoughtful response!

JoeVC wrote:

In my formative photography years of the late 1970s, narrow DOF was hardly ever used, and was commonly considered as a gimmick. Instead, much discussion in photography magazines was around getting as wide a DOF as possible. This was especially true in the Large Format landscape genre where every aspect of the image, from fore to background, was required to be in sharp focus. That's why movements on view cameras was considered so important. I don't recall seeing narrow DOF images from the likes of Weston and Adams, either.

Yes, but you also need to place Weston and Adams in their historical context. They both deliberately rejected the prevailing photographic aesthetic of the day (pictorialism) that emphasized narrow DOF and even sought to enhance it. These things tend to go in cycles.

Pictorialism hardly emphasized shallow DoF. Rather, pictorial photographers did (and still do) try to emulate painting in a photograph. The elements that we have grown to appreciate and obsess over, like sharpness and accurate focus, are at times nearly absent from the work of pictorialists.

The objective of Group f/64 was to try to make photography its own art form, instead of another means of making impressionist paintings.

To quote from their manifesto (it was the 30's; everyone had to have a manifesto):

Group f/64 limits its members and invitational names to those workers who are striving to define photography as an art form by simple and direct presentation through purely photographic methods. The Group will show no work at any time that does not conform to its standards of pure photography. Pure photography is defined as possessing no qualities of technique, composition or idea, derivative of any other art form. The production of the "Pictorialist," on the other hand, indicates a devotion to principles of art which are directly related to painting and the graphic arts.

This is the aesthetic which has come to dominate art photography, largely to differentiate it from painting. There's a lot of pictorialist work that is nearly indistinguishable from drawing or painting. I place a lot of the current work being produced by heavy photoshop manipulation and compositing in the same pictorialist tradition. Not that I don't like the stuff, mind you. I would have no problem owning a lot of that work, but it isn't what I want to produce.

I would tend to agree with you when it comes to evaluating photographs with great artistic pretensions. However, a great deal of photography serves another purpose. For instance, a lot of wedding photography would look horrible with deep DOF.

That's an aesthetic judgement. At this point in time, expectations have been set for what constitutes "good" wedding photography. You darned well better have tons of chutzpah if you're going to break from that aesthetic and still sell. Personally, I'm not up to the task! And before you jump in with an example of a particular must-have wedding shot that requires shallow DoF, keep in mind that with a wide DoF aesthetic you simply would not take that shot, you would do something else.

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God loves the noise just as much as the signal.

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