This is one of my favorite images of my son Lucas. I took it with my OM-2 while testing a roll of Arcos film. I was taking pictures around the house, and I wanted a picture of my son but wanted him to fill the frame. If I put him in focus he would not fill the frame and if I filled the frame he would be out of focus. I opted to have him out of focus and snapped two images. This is my favorite one of the two.
I was doing a small review on the 'Immediate Family' book by Sally Mann (you can see it HERE) and the concept of focus came to mind. We value focus a great deal and there is an entire eye glass industry around giving us the ability to properly focus. The challenge is that we do not remember in focus. Our memories, like our dreams, are more nebulous and less sharp.
People move, we move, our range of sight is limited and only further impacted by changing lighting conditions. So we do not experience our world in perfect focus. Yes we can sit still and focus on something, but this takes concentration. If we required focus to live our lives we would look like the old web cam videos of a few years ago...start, stop, start, stop...
So then it makes sense that our photography should not require excellent focus but it seems our world has moved in that direction. The earlier photographs were taken with home made lenses, and were not able to give the focus or contrast of modern day lenses. As technology improved, the ability to get tack sharp focus was an indication of a good quality lens. That desire, to get a very sharp, contrasty and tack sharp focus became the professional daily bread and the goal of every amateur.
These days, a quality lens is rather affordable. Any lens made these days will give better focus, sharpness and contrast than lenses made eighty years ago. So why is it that we are searching for focus? Because it is the first thing our eyes will see when looking at an image. It is a powerful compositional tool. But this does NOT mean we should be slaves to it.
Focus is something we should play with, and while it may hurt composition, it may help transmit emotion. Leaving the viewer to sharpen the image with their own memories, imagination or experiences.
Sometimes the right image is just beyond focus.