The Tyranny of Sharpness
“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” - Ansel Adams.
The earliest known surviving photograph made in a camera, taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 or 1827 was not a sharp image. But soon after, photographs presented a world view where sharpness ruled. Roger Fenton's assistant seated on Fenton's photographic van, from 1855 was a sharp image.
That was over 160 years ago.
Today, it’s quite common to hear people judge a photograph by the degree of sharpness it has. Overwhelmingly, in the world of photography, the sharp image reigns supreme. When we were conceptualizing our collaboration and discussing the look we wanted, we decided that a lo-fi, grainy, sometimes patchy, sometimes blurry and painterly look was our goal. If we want to move the medium forward, certain things we take for granted like sharpness, must be questioned.
When you take a close look at our work printed at 20” x 30”, you will notice how soft, grainy and unsharp it is. For us, sharpness is a tool, not a goal.
The visualization and communication of the concept is much more important to us than creating consistently sharp photographs that satisfy our nostalgic tendencies for describing edges in that way. This unconscious nostalgia keeps the medium rooted in the past. It's OK to mix and match varying degrees of sharpness within an image - that's why we have depth of field. But for us, as photomontagists, we'll take the highs with the lows - anything goes. As long as the concept is delivered with cohesiveness, that's all the clarity you may need.
How do you feel about sharpness in photographs? Let us know!