A Touch of Confusion

January 15, 2018


The two photographs on this blog use the same technique to sensitise perception. The technique is to open the aperture of the lens so as to reduce the depth of field – the space between the inner and outer edges of the in-focus material. What lies before the front edge and behind the outer edge then accompanies the in-focus plane as an out of focus bokeh. Playing with different depths of field and searching for different bokeh effects is a common creative process in photography.

One can focus on a whole succession of in focus planes to gain an impression of the depth of the perceptual world in which we are immersed with other people and many varieties of things. Normally we would tend to take all this for granted, because the eye is such a subtle instrument that it moves seamlessly between different planes through countless small muscular adjustments to the eyeball. It takes the relative clumsiness of the camera to facilitate attention on one plane or another. In this sense the eye is complicit in our forgetting of the density and complexity of our perceptual life!


A master in exploiting depth of field was the great American colour photographer Saul Leiter. When not working in studios, or on assignment with clients, he would wander his neighbourhood finding the unusual in the usual. He composes the familiar scene originally and often this is accomplished by focussing on an unusual visual plane to introduce a touch of confusion into the image. The touch of confusion extends to ourselves as we view the image. Our normal way of looking is subverted, our perception refreshed and our leap to habitual meanings is interrupted or deferred.


At least that is what Leiter seems to me to accomplish and what I am trying to also achieve in the two photographs on this blog.


The first photograph was taken a year ago in a nearby coffee shop in Turl Street Oxford. I have reduced the depth of field and focused on the rain falling onto the misted window, throwing the red van and its surroundings out of focus.


The second was taken on Boxing Day (December 26th 2017) from the roof top walk of a brand new shopping centre in Oxford. I have photographed the early morning sun blasting through the glass wall round the edge of the terrace. There are relatively fewer visual clues – I have upped the potential confusion - in the hope and expectation that perception will be heightened and knowing deferred. 



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