I confess, I don't appreciate the "out-of-focus, swirly bokeh" look either. Nor do I have any appreciation for the "ruined negative with cigaretts and sandpaper" aesthetic. These two just baffle me. I almost always think that these type of photographs look horrible. The ruined negative photos in particular just make me think "this is complete utter garbage, why even bother to do this?" Swirly bokeh...just makes me wonder.."why?".
Ironically, some of the people who routinely fall back on these gimicks are well known to be very skilled photographers. This just further adds to my confusion and sometimes even leads to a bit of self doubt....maybe, my own taste is simply not sophisticated enough to "get it".
Then there's the "I used excessive camera movements to make everything but this trapezoidal area out of focus" thing....it just looks dumb.
Personally I think most of the obsession comes at the "f/64" end of the scale.
One of the great joys for me in using a Holga on occasion is that it adds some personality to the generic snaps I take of life around me. Sure my F5 with a 50mm f/1.8 can get me a sharper, better focused, better exposed, shot; so what, the Holga shots have great character. Center the subject, get close on focus, use a forgiving film and I get a negative that naturally focuses the attention in a print on the subject.
Old Petzvals do the same thing on LF cameras.
To me the quest for edge to edge perfection is distracting. I think this is one of the things that bothers me most about most of Ansel Adams work and digital.
Mark Barendt, Beaverton, OR
"We do not see things the way they are. We see things the way we are." Anaïs Nin
I would suggest you can’t, as with any camera, lens, equipment or process technique. Because someone else can always use the same combination of above to produce a similar look, although I can understand the combinations of these are almost limitless and many people wish to experiment, which is fine. Some quite famous photographers also use specific techniques/camera/lens/lighting/etc. to help identify and signature their imagery. However, without wishing to preach, I believe that personal vision is developed over a long time to make that look your own. To use an analogy if you spend most of your life carving wood and making furniture you may become another Thomas Chippendale, but with your own look (nothing to do with the chisel you used).
Originally Posted by SuzanneR
“The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention”
I think you raise some interesting points Thomas. I aslo think perhaps it's hard to comment without really trying to make images with these older lenses & techniques.
Last year I sold a large TP shutter to a photographer for her Darlot lens, I was stunned by the quality of her wet plate work. Back in the early summer I saw some more work by a different photographer at Dimbola House on the Isle of Wight. If the images had beeen shot with modern lenses the character of the work would have been very different.
I hadn't intended to buy a Darlot/Petzval lens myself however a chance encounter with one at a flea market last month and it's very low cost (£20/$32) means I will in fact give one a try. The lens turned out to be optically perfect despite the grime and spiders living inside
It's important to find the appropriate use for these lenses to make work that stands up on its own without looking gimicky, that's going to be the challenge.
I don't wish to imply that corner to corner sharpness is good either, as I often find those photographs very cluttered with things and difficult to figure out what the photograph is actually about, because there's too much stuff that's sharp. Aperture, to me, is a tool, where I can choose what I leave in focus and what I leave out, in order to emphasize the meaning or importance of things in the frame.
Originally Posted by markbarendt
"Often moments come looking for us". - Robert Frank
"Make good art!" - Neil Gaiman
"...the heart and mind are the true lens of the camera". - Yousuf Karsh
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I have been dabbling in some soft focus stuff because I'm a little tired of sharp, sharp photographs. I think everything has it's time and place. I'm a tool oriented person and a fair multi tasker and comfortable with a large amount of equipment....I'm always happy to have brought an odd lens or camera with me when it just fits the subject..EC
P.S. I always carry an 11x14 camera with me and it might not come out of the car for a month, some days I use all my film with it!!
Thomas, Indeed there are many who seem more concerned with lens signature, bokeh and even the seriel number. I have flirted with this myself, but now approach it with does the body fit my hand and eye well and is the bokeh distracting? If it's a good fit and the out of focus isn't distracting then it should do what I want. I can say I'm happy with the 1.7 50 and 3.5 135 for my pentax km (cheap and good) I love the 75 for my pentax 645 and will get a 150 for it sometime because it's a better fit for me than the 120 or 200. That will be the last gear I see myself buying for a long time.
I am with Mark. Sharpness or perfection can be a gimmick in itself. AA produced perfect prints but from a purely emotional point of view his work is lacking.
Old lenses and swirly Bokeh are tools like any photographic tool they can be overused or used in the wrong way.
Some subjects cry out for swirly bokeh or the holga look and some subjects require a perfect print and neutral optics.
Remember, these are just tools that allow your vision to be recorded. Regardless of how the lens signature looks. Many people are using these older lenses in a way they were not initially created to do. Like you said Thomas, the lenses like the old petzvals were made large and fast to cover a relatively small area in the sweet spot of the lens, for the processes of the day. Now, everyone and their monkeys uncle are using them for creative or pictorial effect. I'm guilty of it too.... However, i go back to my original statement about them just being tools to achieve a creative goal based on the vision of the photographer. I never thought i'd be where i am with wet plate was it not for the look of the images, taken with old glass. I used to think like many others that photos were meant to be sharp front to back. I still like and make images like that, but i also grew an appreciation for pictorialism, and the way they can take you to a more emotional state about a scene/portrait. It doesn't have to be perfect to make a superb image. The equipment that is available to us to realize these images, goes through many fads/phases. Sometimes we jump on the train, and have a blast creating something new and different to our normal comfortable way of image making. Currently, i am liking older glass as it is less clinical, less contasty, and more importantly, EASY to use. It does not get in the way of image making.... Certainly wet plate has a learning curve especially the chemistry and maintenance. But the equipment... cameras, lenses are as basic as you can get. It is the antithesis of being in control and opens the artist up to chance, serendipity and uniqueness of each image they create. As you know, i have also spent a lot of time making old lenses fit modern camera bodies, and made some images that became a theme for me, that i was able to complete, and show. During that time, it was the shake up i needed to finally cut loose and bring back the passion. I realize I am only one voice in the choir here, its a personal choice, but I do believe that older glass, and sometimes legendary examples of it can open up opportunities to an artist. It just depends on how your style and vision evolves. I'm not saying the images are better for it, as in some situations, the bokeh, signature can look over done, and cliched. Remember, EVERYTHING has been done before, its just a choice where it takes you and how your creativity exploits these lens features, or a choice not to exploit them. Doing it without it getting in the way of the creative process is the key for me.
As Andrew said... Tools to be used, and mastered, if chosen to do so.