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Photogs / Photo Exhibits This is the place to discuss a particular Photographer (work, style, life, whatever), as well as to post Gallery and Museum Photo Exhibitions and your own impressions of them. As we march on in this new digital world, it is often too easy to forget about the visual importance of the photographic print, as well as their financial importance to the photographer. It is also interesting to remember that some guy named Gene Smith shot with lenses that many lens test reading "never had a picture published in their life" amateurs would turn up their their noses at, as being "unacceptable."

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Overheard at MOMA about HCB: "why were so many of his shots out of focus?"
Old 05-04-2010   #1
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Overheard at MOMA about HCB: "why were so many of his shots out of focus?"

While enjoying the Cartier-Bresson exhibit at MOMA in NYC last weekend, a man next to me asked, "Why are so many of his shots out of focus?" To which I answered with a question, "Why does it matter?"

The show is a must-not-miss and the catalog is very well done, too.
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Old 05-04-2010   #2
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Two words: Luigi's Bike.
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Old 05-04-2010   #3
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Indeed, a favorite of mine.

I thought my retort might encourage this guy to talk less and perhaps think and look more. Probably to little avail, as I suspect he left the museum convinced the man he was speaking to (me) is nuts and that poor old HCB didn't know how to focus.

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Originally Posted by Gabriel M.A. View Post
Two words: Luigi's Bike.
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Old 05-04-2010   #4
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Why are so many of his shots out of focus?"
B/c he didnt have a auto-everything digital camera that a cat could operate
Looking forward to the show coming here to SFMOMA later this year
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Old 05-04-2010   #5
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"Why does it matter?"

It matters to me for a few reasons:
1. It was a mistake. HC-B didn't do it on purpose, to make any particular statement.
2. It's a distraction and a detraction from what the image was supposed to be/represent.
3. If any of us tried to pass off the same image, we wouldn't be cut the same slack as HC-B, who's granted 'leniency' because of his name and the period in which he worked.

Sorry to be argumentative. I actually still plan to see the show. These are, though, some of the reasons why i'm not a fan. I've only seen 'in focus' prints in person, but the OOF stuff in the books really cheeses me.
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Old 05-04-2010   #6
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Sharp focus is such a bourgeois concept...
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Old 05-04-2010   #7
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i enjoy it when focus is used as a creative photographic tool and not the most important aspect of an image. i also enjoy it when IMO an out of focus image creates a stronger photograph than if sharp critical focus had been employed on the subject/focus of that image (pun 50% intended), whether on purpose or not.

personal preference, no opinion is more right than the other.
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Old 05-04-2010   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fotomeow View Post
Why are so many of his shots out of focus?"
B/c he didnt have a auto-everything digital camera that a cat could operate
I dunno about that. A lot of RFF members use the same gear. A lot of people have Auto Everything gear, but use those cameras in manual mode. Or, they take the time to meter and focus, rather than guestimate and set it and forget it/scale focus. The difference is in the EDIT.

I don't give HCB 'extra credit' for setting his camera at 4 meters and HOPING. That, to me, is lazier than using AF. HCB would have used AF if it were an option during his time. [Didn't he use a Minilux?] And Sunny 16 or whatever variant he might have practiced just isn't appropriate for a photographer who has to satisfy an art director, or a client. HCB had the luxury of shooting long-term, semi-journalistic projects. If he came back with a contact sheet of unusable negs, no one would ever know, and his legacy would be untouched. He could spend three months in Central America and we would only see one image from that experience.

I'm going to stop now, lest i be attacked as an HCB "basher." I don't hate the guy. I have four books. I like some of his work. I just don't understand how he came to be the Clapton-like God. He, himself, admits to being disconnected from his subject matter. I don't get anything from his images because of it. Seems he's more interested in the geometry of the compositional task than he is in the people in the images. I always feel like there should be 'more.' When you have access to people like Marilyn Monroe, and come away with only a few amateurish snapshots...i just don't get it.

Anyone have a link to "Luigi's Bike?" Help me understand, please.
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Old 05-04-2010   #9
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and then there is ansel adams, very sharp photos, most of which i find incredibly boring.

it's a lot about individual tastes and preferences.
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Old 05-04-2010   #10
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I have no particular opinion on this topic in this context. For me, the HCB images that work best have me thinking about anything but focus. If I had concerns about what was in-focus and out-of-focus in his work, I probably wouldn't enjoy it the way I do.

As to my own work, that's different story. If I draw attention to nothing or to the wrong thing, that's an issue, but that's because I knew what I wanted in my mind's eye and couldn't execute it with gear.

I also asked this gent if he was bothered by the ones he felt were out of focus; he said he wasn't sure.

I'm afraid fotomeow has a good point. When our cameras allow us to stop thinking, acting and learning on our own and when any idiot believes he or she can replicate anything they see in museum, a certain meaningless begins to take over.

CK Dexter Haven (I loved you in Philadelphia Story), I understand where you're coming from in your comments above, but I'm afraid I won't be joining this debate. However, I'm sure others will share their two cents.

My OP was intended as reporting on a conversation I had. I haven't much comment about it. I found it amusing and that's about all. I did figure, however, that posting here would stir up some debate.
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Old 05-04-2010   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cnphoto View Post
i enjoy it when focus is used as a creative photographic tool and not the most important aspect of an image. i also enjoy it when IMO an out of focus image creates a stronger photograph than if sharp critical focus had been employed on the subject/focus of that image (pun 50% intended), whether on purpose or not.

personal preference, no opinion is more right than the other.
Thanks.

I agree with 90% of this. There's a series of photographs of city lights, entirely out of focus. Bokeh, essentially. I can't find a link or remember a name. I really like those images. I, myself, have been a 'bokeh freak' for a number of years. I won't use lenses that don't do OOF well. I have a Canon 85/1.2L for goodness sake. I LOVE out of focus bits in photographs. But, if i take a photograph and what i intended to be in focus is not in focus, and or the image is simply 'soft' because i 'missed' focus, i regard it as a technical failure. If i can't rehabilitate the image somehow, i discard it.

To me, the purpose or intent IS important. Certainly, someone could call a mistake an intent and no one is the wiser. But, when the viewer perceives it as a mistake, i believe it's a failed image. Of course, not everyone will agree with that assessment, and that's the nature of art. My problem, though, is when something is called art, or deemed acceptable or valuable simply because it has a name attached to it. It's sort of a projected narcissism. Maybe it's not even projected - after all, the photographer decided to exhibit the image.

I'm sure that most of my attitude in this regard comes from my photographic education and then my work as a graphic designer/art director. For the latter, there are certain conditions that must be met, and technical proficiency is chief among them.

This is now a thread less about HC-B than about something akin to 'standards' and i apologize for hijacking it.

I have to ask, though: if focus is so overrated, why do we bother? Why do we spend thousands of dollars on lenses, scanners, printing?
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Old 05-04-2010   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CK Dexter Haven View Post
Anyone have a link to "Luigi's Bike?" Help me understand, please.
I think the poster may have been referring to "Mario's Bike". It was an HCB photo someone surreptitiously submitted to the "deleteme" flickr critique group. The comments are quite hilarious:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/andrerabelo/70458366
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Old 05-04-2010   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by robklurfield View Post

My OP was intended as reporting on a conversation I had. I haven't much comment about it. I found it amusing and that's about all. I did figure, however, that posting here would stir up some debate.
It was an interesting comment, and i probably would have made the same response to the question. I wonder if there's something in the original question (by the other museum visitor) that makes it seem as if it's coming from a point of 'ignorance?'

Thanks for starting the discussion. And, also for the reminder about the show. I had marked it on my calendar, but subsequently forgot. I'll try to get up there this week.
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Old 05-04-2010   #14
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don't miss the show.

also, catch the Marina Abramovic exhibit if you can, as it contains some very arresting performance art pieces (and film/videos and stills from earlier performance installations). you'll love it or hate or both, but it too will provoke plenty of conversation.
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Old 05-04-2010   #15
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I bought the book that MOMA published on the exhibit at Borders with a 40% off coupon. Recommeded. I didn't notice a focus problem in the book, but then I was not expecting macro/micro photography. I'm looking forward to see the mounted photos in NYC. HCB didn't use a view camera or a tripod. That's not what his photogaphy was all about. The person who said that probably has no idea that HCP helped create a whole new type of documentary and street photogaphy with a new little camera and 35mm B&W film. His printers did not have access to sharpening in the camera or on photo shop. In that context and at that time they are amazingly sharp photos.
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Old 05-04-2010   #16
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I also cannot resist saying that I saw a Salgado exhibit at the International Photography Center in NYC a few years ago. Very large, beautiful B&W prints produced by Kodak for the show. I could just see someone walking up close and saying, "What horrible grain! Not sharp at all. What kind of camera did he use anyway?"
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Old 05-04-2010   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by antiquark View Post
I think the poster may have been referring to "Mario's Bike". It was an HCB photo someone surreptitiously submitted to the "deleteme" flickr critique group. The comments are quite hilarious:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/andrerabelo/70458366
Just read through the comments on this one, hilarious reading indeed!
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Old 05-04-2010   #18
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I have a few disjointed comments on HCB's out of focus images:

- HCB was taking pictures for magazines and newspapers. Due to printing limitations, and a smaller format, out of focus images were more tolerable.

- HCB sometimes took pictures quickly without time to focus. Check out his pic of the Joliot-Curies:
http://sheilanewbery.wordpress.com/2...ocus-portrait/
HCB said that, when he opened the door to visit them, they were standing there in that position and he quickly brought up the camera and grabbed a shot.

- Often, amateurs mistake a natural depth of field for things being out of focus. For example, the birds in this Matisse picture:
http://www.artknowledgenews.com/Henr...entennial.html
are out of focus, but Matisse himself is in focus. Some people might expect everything in the image to be in sharp focus. (Which is usually impossible).

- People might also be mistaking motion blur with missed focus, which is a problem with action shots.

- It's possible that art galleries are blowing up some pics to 2' x 3', which will amplify any focusing defects.

- When HCB was taking pics, autofocus was not yet invented.

That's all I can think of for now. I'm not really trying to argue with anybody, just pointing out reasons why HCBs stuff could be out of focus, or simply perceived to be out of focus.
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Old 05-04-2010   #19
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among my favorite comments from that flickr "Mario's Bike"thread is this one: "Cartier Bresson is the guy on the bike ?! " Yes, it was all done with mirrors.

I also love the suggestion that the image would be improved by photoshopping the bike out of the picture.

Quote:
Originally Posted by KarlG View Post
Just read through the comments on this one, hilarious reading indeed!
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Old 05-04-2010   #20
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Quote:
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B/c he didnt have a auto-everything digital camera that a cat could operate

And you wonder why the digital shooters get a little uppity at times!

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Old 05-04-2010   #21
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What other interesting commentary have any of you overheard in museums???
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Old 05-04-2010   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by antiquark View Post
- People might also be mistaking motion blur with missed focus, which is a problem with action shots.
Bingo. It's amazing how many people conflate OOF and motion-blur. Never mind bringing up depth of field/depth of focus.


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Old 05-04-2010   #23
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And you wonder why the digital shooters get a little uppity at times!

Their cats have taken their cameras?
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Old 05-04-2010   #24
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Their cats have taken their cameras?
That might explain some of the stuff I come across online...


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Old 05-04-2010   #25
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When I saw the large exhibit of HCB's work in Paris, all the prints were about 11x14, and in identical frames. It took up three floors of the Europeen Maison de Photographie.

When viewed at a normal viewing distance, the prints were something you want to see, really wonderful stuff.

Were they tack sharp through out every image, no.

Was the subject, composition, moment and rendition superb, yes.

Percentage of shots which I would have liked to see on a regular basis, more than 90%.

Impressive to see so much good work at one time.

If you are not impressed by such work in your presence, it is not the fault of the photographs I am afraid.

I do not think of a higher percentage of work I have seen at any exhibition that was as impressive.

Perhaps I just caught the good ones. ;-)


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