alan frost photography

in monochrome with occasional colour lapses

“Sharpness is a bourgeois concept” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

 

There are many quotes attributed to Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of them being that – “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept”. With this image I have taken his saying quite literally. To an extreme in fact because there is absolutely nothing sharp or in focus anywhere in the frame. As a consequence this picture is sure to divide opinion.

When I took the shot I quite deliberatly adjusted the focus ring to give me an out of focus image. It was also shot with a wide aperture opening to minimise the depth of field, further ensuring a blurred image. The light was reasonably good and with a maximum shutter speed on my camera of 1/4000th of a second, I had to use a 3 stop ND filter to avoid blown highlights. In processing I added grain, a vignette and split toned the image.

Ignoring the complete lack of any sharpness the viewer can still discern a man, virtually a silhouette, standing on the beach watching his dog standing in the water. The ripples of the sea along the foreshore and the distant land mass on the horizon provide a sense of depth, and the placement of the man and his dog on the intersection of the thirds gives balance to the overall composition. There is also a triangle which is formed from the man’s head, out to the dog and back to the man’s feet.

I know this is what might be described as a ‘marmite’ shot – you either love it or hate it. Or perhaps you simply can’t understand why the photographer couldn’t at the very least focus his camera properly!

So does this image appeal to the viewer or is it quickly rejected for being technically poor because nothing is sharp, even though that was my intention at the outset? Does this very soft image portray a mood or feeling which would be non existent if the image had been sharp from front to back? There are so many questions and in my view there are no right or wrong answers. It’s my creative vision of a simple scene – one man and his dog, alone on the shoreline…..and the rest is down to your interpretation and imagination.

As always your comments and thoughts on this post would be most welcome.

 

14 Responses to ““Sharpness is a bourgeois concept” – Henri Cartier-Bresson”

  1. rainbowjunkiecorner

    An interesting idea. At my age not so good as wearing glasses that are not always clean I often find myself squinting at the screen. Looking at the photograph I found me eyes kept squinting to try and bring the dog into focus even without any thought on my part!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • alan frost

      Thanks for your comment. When anything is out of focus our eyes naturally try and compensate and I was doing the same thing myself. After a while I was ‘happy’ to accept the lack of sharpness and start to appreciate the image for what is was. Whether it works or not is another matter.

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  2. Vicki

    Definitely a love/hate image.
    To me the blur and solitary figure make me think of a dream that stays on your mind when you wake. You can’t remember the details (of that dream), but know that there was a feeling of isolation on a wintery day.
    It’s like a memory of the past that fades with time, but never totally disappears.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  3. Helen Frost

    They say “it isn’t Art unless it provokes a reaction” and this image does do that. You are right in that it captures an atmosphere which would not have been there in a sharp image – i’ll be interested to read more comment from others

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • alan frost

      Absolutely right….a reaction good or bad is welcome and certainly better than no reaction at all. Some interesting comments have been posted already which is always appreciated.

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  4. LensScaper

    Firstly, I’ve filed that quote away in my growing collection of photographic quotes for future use. I like the idea behind the image, the processing has created an image that has a timeless quality about it . It has the ‘look’ of one that might date back a century or more when sharpness was often not quite perfect. The man himself is not that far off sharp and indeed with my wrong glasses on it would pass as sharp. You’ve critiqued the composition very well – the question is would it be a better image if the man was sharp and everything else out of focus, and I really can’t quite my mind up. I think I could only decide if I had that alternative image as a comparison. I definitely don’t hate it, and it’s a brave idea to publish it to generate debate.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    • alan frost

      Glad you like the quote Andy. I enjoy reading quotes by famous photographers as they can be as inspirational as the photographs they made. I like the ‘pictorial movement’ of photography, when early photographers tried to emulate paintings and ‘blur’ was a key ingredient. I have wondered myself what the difference would be if either just the man or the dog was in focus. I’ll have to go back and try and replicate a similar image with different points of focus.

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  5. mbfitzmahan

    Love your writing and how it adds historical context, and personal relevance. Also a big Cartier-Bresson fan.

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    • alan frost

      I enjoy writing about my photography – I would like to think the literary process, helps my thinking and ultimately it helps improve my images. Well that’s the idea anyway and if it gives pleasure to there as well, that’s a bonus. Thank you for your comment.

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  6. Marti Thinkso

    I’m going to stick my neck out here, as I’m about to set myself up to (potentially) be knocked down.

    I’ve never posted a negative comment about a photograph before, I’ve previously stuck to the idea that if one has nothing good to say, say nothing. But here goes.

    I think this image is no good. That is not because it’s not sharp, or because it is soft, or out of focus. I just feel that the composition is not strong enough to make up for the fact that it is out of focus, even if that was a deliberate intention. The vignette and added grain just seem like an attempt to make a poor picture look interesting. I’m not knocking the process because I am myself often chasing my own tail trying to make interesting images (and often failing).

    I can’t help feeling that you’ve put this up to see if anyone takes the bait!

    I’ve arrived here after googling the Cartier-Bresson quote today. I’d not heard it before, despite being well aware of his legacy. The thing about him was that he was using new equipment to pioneer new techniques, and had the vision to do so. He changed the way we all look at art, and our perception of our whole environment. The thing is, many of his images would not pass muster today, simply because they are blurry and (dare I say it), out of focus!

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    • alan frost

      Thank you for your comment and before I say anything else I am not offended in any way. In fact it is rather refreshing to recieve a comment which, offers constructive criticism instead of the usual ‘lovely image’ etc.
      The photograph is by no means a great one and certainly isn’t one of my favourites. In fact it’s not an image that I am proud of and with the benefit of hindsight I can now agree with your sentiments. From memory I wanted to post something which said more about the view today that everything should be sharp. I disagree with this and wanted to say something even if the image I chose wasn’t a great example. Bait possibly, although not intentionally so.
      My last two blog entries have been about pinhole photography – and these are not sharp either!
      Thank you once again for your feedback – much appreciated.

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  7. Marti Thinkso

    I’m so glad you’ve accepted my critisism in the spirit it was intended. I was worried I’d been a bit blunt. I have really enjoyed looking at your blog, and the superb images.

    I agree that we should not dismiss an image simply because it is not sharp. I would go further and say that it does not matter to me whether that lack of sharpness comes about intentionally or by accident, as long as the image works.

    I hope you don’t mind me saying, I’m not sure the pinhole technique suits your style. Personally, I prefer your “sharp” images. Ironic really, seeing as how I came across them searching out blur!

    Don’t let me put you off. I expect you’ll prove me wrong in the long run.

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