Monthly Archives: May 2017

Fay Godwin and Catherine Hyland

Deep Depth of Field.

Project 2 : Lenswork

Fay Godwin (1931-2005) is famously known for her landscape images, but she started out as a portrait photographer. It was only when she separated from her husband that she chose a change of direction. She developed a formidable body of landscape work and published several books which contain both images and words, some written by her and some done in collaboration with other writers, such as her book Remains of Elmet: A Pennine Sequence, where the images go alongside poems by Ted Hughes. Her book ‘The Edge of the Land’ contains a series of stunning images of Britain’s coast together with essays talking about the vast range of people she met while taking these images and giving their personal stories. (Godwin, 1995).

Godwin said (quoted in an article in Amateur Photographer), “I’ve been called a Romantic photographer and I hate it, it sounds slushy and my work is not slushy. I’m a documentary photographer, my work is about reality, but that shouldn’t mean I can’t be creative.” (Clark, 2010). In her final interview with David Corfield she said “I don’t get wrapped up in technique and the like. I have a simple rule and that is to spend as much time in the location as possible. You can’t expect to take a definitive image in half an hour. It takes days, often years. And in fact, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a definitive picture of something. The land is a living, breathing thing and light changes its character every second of every day. That’s why I love it so much.” (Corfield, 2004)

One of her books ‘Our Forbidden Land’ (Godwin, 1990) is credited with helping change the English Law on public access. She was outspoken and had a deep love and care for the environment together with an abiding interest in the people she met while researching the areas she would photograph.

Margaret Drabble talks about Godwin in the Guardian and says ‘Her photographs of lochs and glens and standing stones with solitary sheep are hauntingly memorable. They have a Wordsworthian timelessness, a sense of the Wordsworthian sublime. Her imagination, like his, was attracted by the barren, the grand and the bleak. These archetypal landscapes are probably the most enduring tributes to her great talent, and they are enduring in every sense – she catches the spirits of places that have been worn and weathered, deserted and abandoned, and yet still speak to us.  (Drabble 2011)

Her photography is monochrome, with a deep depth of field and are very crisp. You are in the landscape she photographs and it surrounds you. The images imply scents and sounds. Her photographs of the groynes at Pett Level in East Sussex instantly reminded me of the similar ones on the beach of my childhood in West Sussex.

Day8056-2-Edit-3

Groynes, Pagham Beach, West Sussex – In homage to Fay Godwin

Catherine Hyland also uses deep depth of field in her recent series of images taken in China and Mongolia, Universal Experience, where she pictures the effects people have had on a vast and barren environment. In an interview, she says “The aim is to shine a light on both the strange and sublime nature of these spaces, Giant Buddhas that exist in small desolate villages in rural China, and expansive mountainscapes with barely any visitors. Whether it’s sites of historical importance or natural splendour each is approached with a heightened awareness of its significance as a place of beauty and grandeur. Landscape is seen primarily as a cultural construct and only secondarily as a natural phenomenon.”. (Brewer,2017).

On her website (Catherinehyland.co.uk) you can see her images depicting ‘The attempts to control and manage the landscape are both a part of this overcoming of the past, and also an attempt to transform nature into a theme park for contemporary consumption. Implicit in this attempt is the idea that the earthquakes, the landslides, the famines, invasions and the floods are a thing of a great and colourful past. They are part of a history that has been transformed into nostalgia. But…… there might be an underlying anxiety to this enclosed world…. a reminder that the land does not pay heed to humanity’s wishes. It can and it will bite back no matter how much we try to tame it. The only question is when’.

Her images are colourful, clear and massive. You overlook the area and I find them overwhelming, even though many show people, themselves enjoying the view. Here the depth of field leads your eye outward, to the infinite distance and beyond.

References:

Brewer, J. (2017). Catherine Hyland explores the vast, yet eerily barren tourist destinations of China and Mongolia. [online] It’s Nice That. Available at: http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/catherine-hyland-universal-experience-photographs-160217 [Accessed 16 May 2017].

Catherinehyland.co.uk. (2017). Catherine Hyland. [online] Available at: http://catherinehyland.co.uk/universal.html [Accessed 16 May 2017].

Clark, D. (2010). Fay Godwin 1931-2005 – Iconic Photographer – Amateur Photographer. [online] Amateur Photographer. Available at: http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/technique/fay-godwin-1931-2005-iconic-photographer-18907 [Accessed 15 May 2017].

Corfield, D. (2004). No Man’s Land – Fay Godwin’s last interview. [online] ePHOTOzine. Available at: https://www.ephotozine.com/article/no-man-s-land—fay-godwin-s-last-interview-67 [Accessed 16 May 2017].

Drabble, M. (2011). Margaret Drabble on Fay Godwin. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/jan/08/margaret-drabble-fay-godwin [Accessed 15 May 2017].

Godwin, F. (1990). Our forbidden land. London: J. Cape.

Godwin, F. (1995). The edge of the land. London: Cape.

Press, S. (2017). Catherine Hyland’s Universal Experience. [online] Ignant.com. Available at: https://www.ignant.com/2017/03/03/catherine-hylands-universal-experience/ [Accessed 16 May 2017].

 

 

Mona Kuhn and Saul Leiter

Shallow Depth of Field in Photography.

Project 2: Lenswork

Mona Kuhn was born in 1969 in Brazil of German parents. She was given her first camera age 12 and has been taking photographs ever since.  She is a well-known photographer whose main interest lies in images of people, often nude. In an interview related to her exhibition Acido Dorado, Kuhn says ‘I see the body as a residence to our emotions, our soul, our inner selves. Gauguin has a wonderful painting titled “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” from 1897. I think it summarises a question we all have, but one that I decided to use as basis to my source of inspiration. I photograph the human in us, without shame, without regret, free and timeless………I start my creative process by imagining colors. I don’t know why, but coloration comes to me first. From there I tie in emotion, then location and last the people’ (Arciniegas, 2014).

David Campany (Campany, 2014) says, when talking about a later body of work – Private ‘At times Mona Kuhn takes the challenge head on, making views of crystal clarity in which light and land are one.  At other times she prefers a wide aperture and a shallow depth of field for her photographs…… Early mornings, early evenings and the moments of respite offered by shadows and sequestered interiors.’

Balthazar

Balthazar © Mona Kuhn

Evidence is a series that portrays nudes taken in a naturist camp in France. There are 55 images, mainly of young, beautiful people (Balthazar) where much, or sometimes all of the image is taken at a shallow depth of field, forcing the eye to initially concentrate on a single person or a small detail. The people are often glancing sideways, looking out of the page or across it. Few seem to be engaged directly with the photographer, but equally they are aware of her, maybe she is not important to them, or, they are so comfortable with her presence they are ignoring her. In describing the images Baldwin says, ‘the overarching accomplishment here is that the photographer has managed to balance complicated layers of relationships, of sitter to sitter, of sitter to self, of model to photographer; ……to establish a complex set of ambiguities played out in an apparently egalitarian, if not an outrightly utopian society.’ (Kuhn and Baldwin, 2007) The images appear to follow the story of a day, from a brilliant, and soft-focus, sunrise though daytime activities to night-time quietude and languor. There is the occasional relief from all the youth and beauty, an old man staring into space (Mon Frere), a room with only a chair in partial focus (An Absence) and these are the images I am drawn to. The images that are completely out of focus (Reflecting) are edgy and uncomfortable, leaving you wondering what is happening, what has happened and what might come next. The story is only partly told. Imagination is free.

Reflecting

Reflecting © Mona Kuhn

 

Saul Leiter is another photographer who often uses a shallow depth of field.to draw attention to a specific point such as in Carol Brown (1958 for Harper’s Bazaar) or Walking (c. 1948) and to ‘create great swathes of colour’ (Pill, 2017) for example, Taxi (1957) or Through Boards (1957).

Taxi_Leiter

Taxi © Saul Leiter Estate

In the introduction to Saul Leiter (Leiter and Kozloff, 2008) Kozloff says ‘far from being a traditionalist, he is in the forefront of photographic innovators, daring for his time……..he considers what lies underneath, is off to the side, or gets in the way of his nominal subject………One notices his enjoyment of the downy texture or foamy substance when selected passages are out of focus.’

Andrew Dickson, in a review for the Guardian, said ‘Many photographs hover on the boundaries of abstraction, planes canting towards each other than cavorting away again; often they are riddles that never quite resolve…….Leiter uses mirrors and windows to tease the eye, piling half-glimpsed images on top of each other – the sharp white of a woman’s shawl imprinting itself on to the palm-leaf design of a shop dummy’s dress, or, as in Reflection (1958), a chiming collision of reflected faces caught in glazing. Just as frequently, condensation, rain or snow films and fogs the frame. Often what we most want to see is held tantalisingly out of reach (Dickson, 2016).

Carol Brown_Leiter

Carol Brown © Saul Leiter Estate

Roberta Smith wrote ‘Mr. Leiter was a photographer less of people than of perception itself. His painter’s instincts served him well in his emphasis on surface, spatial ambiguity and a lush, carefully calibrated palette. But the abstract allure of his work doesn’t rely on soft focus, a persistent, often irritating photographic ploy, or the stark isolation of details, in the manner of Aaron Siskind or early Harry Callahan. Instead, Mr. Leiter captured the passing illusions of everyday life with a precision that might almost seem scientific, if it weren’t so poetically resonant and visually layered.’ (Smith, 2005).

Leiter himself said ‘But I believe there is such a thing as a search for beauty – a delight in the nice things in the world. And I don’t think one should have to apologise for it.” (In No Great Hurry, 13 Lesions in Life from Saul Leiter, 2012).

Leiter’s images are sometimes soft, sometimes acidly clear and always alluring. His early images were black and white but he embraced the use of colour very early on. He was not well-known in his early life and is only recently being lauded. His images draw you in, there is mystery but you are part of it rather than standing outside looking in. These are images that I would hang on my wall and dream over.

Images posted with permission of and thanks to Mona Kuhn and the Saul Leiter Foundation

References:

Arciniegas, T. (2014). An Interview with Mona Kuhn ahead of her London Show at Flowers Gallery. [online] Losarciniegas.blogspot.co.uk. Available at: http://losarciniegas.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/an-interview-with-mona-kuhn-ahead-of.html [Accessed 13 May 2017].

Campany, D. (2014). MONA KUHN. [online] Monakuhn.com. Available at: http://www.monakuhn.com/pages/view/campany/ [Accessed 13 May 2017].

Dickson, A. (2016). Made in Manhattan: how Saul Leiter found beauty in Gotham’s glass and grime. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/jan/15/made-in-manhattan-how-saul-leiter-found-beauty-in-gothams-glass-and-grime [Accessed 13 May 2017].

In No Great Hurry, 13 Lesions in Life from Saul Leiter. (2012). [DVD] Tomas Leach

Kuhn, M. and Baldwin, G. (2007). Evidence. Gottingen: Steidl, p.9.

Leiter, S. and Kozloff, M. (2008). Saul Leiter. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Pill, S. (2017). Light, Form and Soul. Black and White, February, pp.38-45.

Smith, R. (2005). Art in Review; Saul Leiter. [online] Query.nytimes.com. Available at: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9901E3D81330F933A05751C1A9639C8B63 [Accessed 13 May 2017].

Exercise 2.7

Use a combination of small aperture and wide lens to explore deep depth of field.

My initial images for this exercise were a very traditional landscape view of local farmland, using the tractor pathway to draw your eye into the picture. I prefer the left image as I feel it is more balanced.

Further experimentation used a slightly less distant panorama

The selected image is shown here, as although the Gunnera make a striking element, I feel they take over the whole image and I would have preferred them to be less dominant.

-1705_St Andrews BG135135

1/60 sec, f/22, ISO 1250, focal length 21mm

 

Learning points:

  • remember to think about the whole image, foreground and background especially is using a small aperture.
  • look at the balance within the image
  • one very dominant part can take over, not always the part wanted

 

Exercise 2.6

Use a combination of wide apertures, long focal lengths and close viewpoints to create a shallow depth of field. Try to compose the out-of-focus areas as well.

A selection of images of our local train. It doesn’t go anywhere, but the children love it. My preferred image is shown below, it gives just enough of the train for you to imagine what it is, and also shows the background, giving clues to the time of year and the park surroundings.

-1704_Exercise 2.1048048

1/500, f/4.9, ISO 200, focal length 46mm

This is a technique I find very useful for botanical photographs.

My recent select from this type of images is below as I feel the background really adds to the picture:

-1705_Woburn Abbey006006

Learning points:

  • Think about the background

Exercise 2.5

 

Find a subject in front of a background with depth. Take a close viewpoint and zoom in, focus on the subject and take an image, then focus on infinity and take a second shot.

I found this exercise more challenging than I expected. On my initial round of attempts I focused on the subject and obtained some pleasing images with the background out of focus, however when I moved the focus to infinity and then looked at the images I found that the background was out of focus as well as the subject image. On looking and thinking it became apparent that my ‘background’ was not far enough away to register as infinity for the camera lens, and therefore was out of focus. I am very used to focusing close-up on botanical subjects, but had not really considered the distance away of the background as all I had wanted to do was throw it out of focus which was not the object of this exercise. I went out again and took another round of examples. It is a good thing I am using a digital camera as the only ‘cost’ is time and footwear!

The final images were:

I find the most pleasing images in these sets are the ones where the focus is on the subject (the ornamental railing) and that it gives a somewhat disconcerting image when the near object, that the eye automatically travels to, is out of focus. However, I experimented further:

The processing in this set is the same, however I must have moved slightly when refocusing. I find both images interesting but they give a very different feel, when the focus is on the gravestones the tree simply forms a frame, when on the tree the image becomes more ‘dreamlike’ in quality, and, although the gravestones are not in focus, I feel it portrays the graveyard more successfully.

Further experiments confirm that the point of focus that gives the preferred image depends on the purpose of the image, not necessarily the closer or most obvious subject. The gate is more important in the upper set, while the path is more dominant in the lower set. In all images the gate acts as a ‘barrier’, locking you away, however the lower right image makes you feel as though you, or at least your imagination, is travelling onward.

Learning points:

  • be aware of the background as well as the obvious subject matter
  • focus on the important thing in the picture, not just the nearest
  • the background (even though apparently far away) may not be at infinity as far as the camera lens is concerned
  • sometimes throwing the subject out of focus gives a more effective way of showing it
  • if you want to keep your framing identical you need to use a tripod

Exercise 2.4

Find a location with good light and a simple background for a portrait shot. Use a wide aperture with a moderately long focal length.

-1704_Faces003003

1/800 sec, f/6.5, ISO 200, focal length 46mm

These settings give a very pleasant portrait shot, (completely unlike the one in exercise 2.3!). The eyes stand out well and the background is out of focus so not distracting.

Exercise 2.3

Choose a subject in front of a background with depth. Use a short focal length and take a low close viewpoint, look for perspective distortion.

There is clear perspective distortion in both images. The person and dog image emphasises the mans hand and arm at the expense of the face, and the dog’s nose is lengthened even more than normal. As noted in the manual, not a good look for a portrait.

The plant is a less disastrous image in that it does focus on the plant,  seeming huge in comparison to everything else. If I had been intending an image of this plant alone I would normally have shot from straight on, or possibly gone even lower and tried to take against the sky.

Learning point:

  • be aware of distortion
  • if shooting wide angle you need to be straight on to the image unless the distortion is planned, for instance to emphasise a set of stairs.