Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Exploring ways of framing in depth when making a photograph.

Foreground and background are out of focus.
 We are led to focus on the bird.

Since the Renaissance, European art has been focused on perspective - the illusion of three dimensions on a flat surface. Photography, when it was first introduced, was quickly seized upon by artists as a 3D aid and as a new version of seeing. Vermeer used the camera even before it was possible to make a exposed negative and print from it to capture a scene or portrait ( watch the documentary 'Tim's Vermeer'). Before that though, art around the world was not so wrapped up in this obsession with depth. My developing interest is in investigating ways to explore that sense of three dimensional space with a camera without taking it for granted.

Not by focus, but by severely limiting what is in the frame.

Although the maple blossom and the sky are far apart in depth,
 the flat blue acts like a simple blue backdrop.
In California, photographers like Edward Weston and Ansel Adams were intentionally using small apertures to capture great depth of field. That was how the world was, they argued, and the human eyes should roam across the two dimensional print, bringing different places into focus in their eyes just as they did for the three dimensional reality that the camera had captured. Even today their photographs using this idea are pretty impressive!

Depth of field, but there is enough fuzzy information
 to provide interest and context.
The background has work to do in the composition

Other photographers however, were more attracted to the effects to be had from shallow depth of field and once the general public caught on to how to manipulate aperture and thereby select the depth of field, and faster lens' were available to permit endless variation, the idea of using shallow depth of field became an important part of photographic practice. A sharply focused near subject could be separated from a softly blurred background. And that technique is standard practice to this day. So standard that we have forgotten what came before.

By focusing on the water texture,
 I have created an almost flat screen.
( my personal favorite )

I have limited and constructed a shallow, textured space.

My personal challenge was to question this orthodoxy: to start with accepted practice and then veer off in, for me at least, new directions. We are accustomed to the process of framing as we prepare to snap our picture, - what is in the frame and what is left out -, and it is a powerful way of selecting our main subject and avoiding the distractions that lie all around. What then if one were to apply this same skill set to what is in the space inside the frame. When we lower our viewfinder so the sky is not in the photograph we have reduced the implied depth in three dimensions. We have controlled it. And when we zoom in, or approach our subject more closely so the background becomes less obvious we have done this even more.

The new leaves are out of focus and the background is sharp,
 but it is the lines and blobs that dominate the composition.

Where could I begin? What would I find? It is Spring here on the West Coast so naturally enough I found blossoms and fresh green leaves, so I began to compose consciously for a controlled sense of dimensionality  - shallow depth of field yes, but also limited distance, textured forms, and so on. I found a world view that was quite unique, a new take.

Sharp and soft focus , but the textures dominate.

Yes there are two ducks to provide a point of focus,
 but the waves provide an almost flat surface texture.

Now I can use my frame to control what is in and out of the frame and also control depth by means other than simply using f stops. I can think my way into my composition in 3 dimensions*.

The wind stirs the fluttering  leaves against a solid textured form.

A very busy image, but there is separation between maple
 branches and the darker and bluer background.
 The whole ,is really composed within a shallow depth.

A standard depth of field photograph using a larger aperture
 to separate the maple blossoms from the background.
*Since the invention of the photograph around a hundred and fifty years ago the visual arts have also been breaking away from perspective and towards a different way of representing depth. Picasso and others, perhaps influenced by newly discovered prehistoric cave paintings and art from 'primitive' cultures, began to work towards a more shallow space articulated by colour, form and texture. Hans Hofmann spoke of 'push – pull' to refer to the relationships between the elements of composition in his lessons on Abstract Impressionism.

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