The main goal in this course project is to link photographs to ethical issues as can be found in the suggested readings and the given quotes in the coursebook where the depth of field relates to this ethical code.
Where the initial quote by Wim Wenders is placed in the coursebook, the second one in the same article that’s quoted by Broomberg&Chanarin is much more explicit
“The tremendous development of photojournalism has contributed practically nothing to the revelation of the truth about conditions in this world. On the contrary photography, in the hands of the bourgeoisie, has become a terrible weapon against the truth. The vast amount of pictured material that is being disgorged daily by the press and that seems to have the character of truth serves in reality only to obscure the facts. The camera is just as capable of lying as the typewriter”
(Bertolt Brecht (1931) quoted in Unconcerned But Not Indifferent — Broomberg & Chanarin 2008)
But further on in their text, Broomberg & Chanarin move on to the selection side of ethical and moral codes. Is the selection by itself already a moral and ethical filter?
“someone has shuddered for us; reflected for us, judged for us; the photographer has left us nothing – except a simple right of intellectual acquiescence”
(Roland Barthes quoted in Unconcerned But Not Indifferent — Broomberg & Chanarin 2008)
They elaborate on their jury task at the World Press photo, the essence and function of photojournalism and how thin the line is when it comes to ethical selections and or visualizations. Aesthetics and esthetics go hand in hand but also cross and oppose. The implicit narrative of an image becomes more important than a clinical reflection of the observation. Therefore you need to truly understand the subject and situation and not only witness it.
Film theorist Andre Bazin is quoted in Thompson & Bordwell:
“Thanks to depth of field, at times augmented by action taking place simultaneously on several plane, the viewer is at least given the opportunity in the end to edit the scene himself, to select the aspects of it to which he will attend.” (Observations on film art, 2018)
This quote by Bazin relates to the film Citizen Cane by Orson Welles, where the director uses deep depth of field in multiple scenes. He addresses this depth of field usage as follows: “a psychological realism which brings the spectator back to the real conditions of perception” (Observations on film art, 2018). The cinematographer Gregg Toland of the movie explains deep focus provides e sense of reality and is extremely efficient. With a single deep focus scene, one avoids multiple front/mid/back focus shots and the audience interprets the result as realistically.
As in the manifesto from 1932 for the famous f.64 group with as members Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, Willard Van Dyke, and Edward Weston indeed is stated:
“The members of Group f.64 believe that Photography, as an art-form, must develop along the lines defined by the actualities and limitations of the photographic medium, must always remain independent of ideological conventions of art and aesthetics that are reminiscent of a period and culture antedating the growth of the medium itself.” (Manifesto Group f.64)
Although the meaning this group and movement had on photography as an art form and the importance of woman and their equality therein is perhaps of greater importance, then this quoted Alinea alone suggests. It also outlines the definition of “Pure photography” and tries to separate photography as full-fledged but stand-alone art-from.
Through the work of Fay Godwin in our forbidden land, we see how deep focus can create a meaningful connection between subject and context, vice versa and /or become e new subject by itself. Deep focus is used to visualise her opinion on the status of the British countryside and the problems she observes. She tries to place the absurdity of specific situations or objects in their full context.
Where all the above examples used deep focus to express their observations, emotions and opinions, Gianluca Cosci tries the opposite and use an extremely shallow depth of field:
I think my work has a certain political atmosphere, even though, perhaps, it is not immediately detectable. I try to put the same emphasis on both the subject of my photographs and the way in which it is photographed. I am interested in the point of view of the excluded, the marginalised. Often one is forced to have only restricted views, in awkward positions, difficult to maintain. Nevertheless we could take advantage of this apparent fault to observe and understand things in a different, unexpected way. (Cosci 2006)
Mona Kuhn uses a shallow depth in specific series in her work. Especially Vintage and Evidence the use of shallow depth of field is used to create a not only an aesthetically appealing image, but it also softens and directs our observation and indeed creates pleasant isolation of and closeness to the subject, defined in the course as intimacy.
Read around the photographers above and try to track down some of the quotations, either in the course reader (Liz Wells) or online. Write up your research in your learning log.
Now look back at your personal archive of photography and try to find a photograph to illustrate one of the aesthetic codes discussed in Project 2. Whether or not you had a similar idea when you took the photograph isn’t important; find a photo with a depth of field that ‘fits’ the code you’ve selected. Add a playful word or title that ‘anchors’ the new meaning.
The ability of photographs to adapt to a range of usages is something we’ll return to later in the course.
Execution and thoughts
I tried to search within my work for images where the depth of field (deep or shallow) forms an essential part in the narrative of the image or what is expressed by it. I selected a photograph taken at Central Station earlier this year, looking through the opening of a garbage bin towards a woman using her mobile, the default human behaviour in 2019 – staring at that little screen, ignoring physical, social presence. The garbage bin intended as a vague subframe. However, at selection, in some images, the focus was opposite as intended. The bin was razor-sharp and the woman with mobile vaguely and unimportant. I decided to keep these. Where the physics of a garbage bin is perhaps more important than the staring to ones mobile or is it an invitation to through the mobile in the bin from time to time? The photograph also reverses object and frame, foreground and background but it maintains authenticity.
At this point, but fully aware this can change at any moment, I favour context, unaltered elements and when possible deep focus as it represents the photographic process, the initial registration of the photographers view best at that moment. However, this might not be the case when shooting in different genres or even commercially. To my own ethics, I prefer authenticity and it should be my effort to express the narrative in such manner correctly and visually appealing or at least emotionally engaging or intriguing. I’m still searching for my place in adding a profound, structural message in my work, or not? It would implicit I find myself ethical superior to the viewer? Although on numerous occasions, I feel a strong urge to say something through my photographs, have an opinion and try to do the morally correct thing. As with this image, it connects my message almost afterwards to the image, slightly unintended even or than at least, not fully as intended.
Text – Unconcerned But Not Indifferent — Broomberg & Chanarin. “Broomberg & Chanarin.” Broomberg & Chanarin, 2014, www.broombergchanarin.com/text-unconcerned-but-not-indifferent. Accessed 28 Sept. 2019.
“Do Filmmakers Deserve the Last Word?” Observations on Film Art, 2018, www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2007/10/10/do-filmmakers-deserve-the-last-word/. Accessed 28 Sept. 2019.
Manifesto Group f.64. 1932.
Cosci, Gianluca. “Panem Et Circenses | Gianluca-Cosci.” Gianluca-Cosci, 2018, www.gianluca-cosci.com/panem-et-circenses. Accessed 28 Sept. 2019.
Kuhn, Mona. “MONA KUHN.” Monakuhn.Com, 2019, www.monakuhn.com/portfolio/works/. Accessed 28 Sept. 2019.