Sharpness and Bokeh are bourgeois concepts by Dro Grigorian

Sharpness and Bokeh are bourgeois concepts by Dro Grigorian

As a Leica user, I know whats it’s like to have a bond with your camera. I myself shoot with an M8, M9 with a 50 Lux and 35 Cron. I get results that I like more than any other combination. But sometimes, you have to change your medium and let your hands and eyes experience something that you are less accustomed to.

When I was a little kid, my father passed me down his Voigtlander Vito CLR. I remember thinking this was the coolest piece of equipment I had ever seen. It took me a while to learn to use it. I didn’t understand the idea of using exposure settings properly. Over time however, I would get my prints back from the local Pharmacy, and a few of the slides actually had something to look at! This inspired me to keep trying.

Now that we’re in this digital world of pixel peeping and micro-sharpness and what have you not, it’s truly nice to step back and shoot with some old traditional equipment. It’s quite peaceful actually, and it allows me to slow down and enjoy the everyday aspects of life. For those of you who are not familiar with the Vito CLR, it is a 35mm film rangefinder produced in 1963. It’s got a build in light meter and the fixed lens has an aperture setting ranging from 2.8 to 22.

I recently stepped back again and started to shoot with it just for fun, and I’d like to share some of the pictures. The beach photo was taken with C-41 process film. These pictures show that sharpness and bokeh are not necessary elements, but a luxury.

Thanks,

Dro Grigorian

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68 Comments

  1. You would think the Cold War was still in full swing with such strong reaction to the use of the term ‘bourgeois’ as a pejorative ; ) I have to agree with Dro that bokeh and sharpness have become photographic fetishes. And in the spirit of honoring diversity of opinion here, let me just say that the use of gelatin (dead animal parts) in making film diminishes my appreciation of such photos.

  2. The first dog photo is gorgeous. The psuedo political stuff is silly, but really no worse than what you’ll find on many comparative lit and critical theory blogs – or in graduate theses!

    Most of the objections above are just as, if not more, pretentious and garbled than the photographer’s spiel.

    I think some of the self-professed “pros” and wonks are kidding themselves. Just because you make a living taking photographs, doesn’t mean you’re an art critic. Moreover, photography is an art form where much of its subject matter, setting and execution is mundane. You’re like bus drivers claiming you’re F1 experts. As for people talking about the “banal,” I mean, GET REAL. YOU are banal. It’s a self-incriminating put-down, as ironic as the pejorative “recherché.”

    Yay for Dro Grigorian!

  3. Hi
    When I saw those images I was a little puzzled -I have seen banal images in exhibitions that kind of grow on you over time and make you think. They have some wit or irony or are simply using drabness in a deliberate way to elicit a response. These are still a puzzle to me! Who knows maybe it’s just me.

  4. Dro,
    I agree with the premise, but what does photography of the proletariat look like? All of this is luxury. We are participating in an endeavour that we are afforded by our caste. We are the bourgeois.

    Excellent photos by the way. They perform the function that sets photography apart from the rest of the community of images; it shows, beyond a doubt, that those things have happened – this has been.

    • I think you should google the real meaning of the word french bourgoise……instead of using it in a wrong meaning.

  5. None of these images, nor the related text, demonstrate or prove your slugline.

    What you might mean to say is that sharpness and bokeh aren’t requisite in a pleasing image. To suggest that they’re a “luxury” makes an assumption that the photographer should simply be satisfied with whatever comes out of the camera, and shouldn’t have an input into the design of the photograph. Which, to me, IS a bourgeois concept.

    These types of declarative statements are always* wrong. Fact is, there are photographs that require sharpness, some that require bokeh, some that don’t and some that don’t. Feeling a need to make a blanket statement to rule all photographs and all photographers is puerile.

    Besides that, it seems a lot of critics seem write from the perspective that bokeh is a new thing. It’s not a fad. The word may be new, but the effect is ageless. While you may not personally find this image appealing, I do. I think it’s magnificent, and assert that it would be not nearly so if everything were in focus. The photographer was Lewis Hine, and this photograph is from 1911. Hine was a better photographer than anyone in this conversation. I’ll take cues from those of this ilk.

    http://www.shorpy.com/files/images/00887u.jpg

  6. To be frank, I have to agree with a previous poster that the look is too much like expired print film. I saw a lot of this during my youth when I worked part-time in a photo lab. Our customers paid per print but somehow felt obligated to shoot every exposure on the film roll. We saw a lot of underexposed images of cats and dogs. To my eye, that’s what I’m seeing here.

  7. Hi Dro
    Congratulations on stepping out of your digital comfort zone and trying something different and reminding us there is more than pixels, IQ and bokeh! That is what is great about photography! And unless the images are for a client there is no right or wrong way to take a picture. There are photographers I have met who go round looking for old cameras at fairs in the hope that there will be one with an old film in there that they can process many years on or find old photos being chucked out… Saw some great found images taken inside a hotel in Austria / Germany in the early mid 30s. We need to remember that photographers in 30s to 70s used a whole variety of different cameras that most would not recognise or know how to use now, and they took great images with them. As for film processing yes a pro lab got it right mostly but ordinary amateur processing was a bit hit and miss and out of date film could easily colour shift.

  8. There is more than a little irony in being chided for harboring “bourgeois concepts” by someone who can afford Leica gear.

    • Sarcasm more likely… 🙂

      I wonder why “Dro” didn’t respond to Bokehenstein’s (that alias…. ugghhh) comment on the origins of the removed image. Common courtesy is of course also a bourgeois concept, and should be avoided like the plague.

      The images? I accidentally bought a not very well functioning Yashica FR some time ago. It came with a DSB 50 (not the best; the ML 50 I also have is really good) and ten rolls of expired Agfacolor 200.

      Interesting experiment; taking pseudo-nostalgic seventies holiday pictures. I got bored very soon and returned to b&w, 400Tx and HP5+.

      Oh well….

      • Not only did he “borrow” a picture that wasn’t his, he “borrowed” part of a quote for his title, without attributing the source:

        “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept” – H. Cartier Bresson

        Nice goin Dro!!

  9. Love the “Bourgeios” comment! Funny turn of phrase evoking central committee idealogy! I agree that the current bokeh trend is getting a bit extreme and will make many current shots look dated. Our eyes have pretty good depth of field and are often not so sharp (mine especially!). Better to use good composition to isolate your subject. Today’s digital whiz-bang is making our pictures look like video game graphics. Now when I was a kid we used coal-fired cameras that you had to focus with special wrenches, often cutting your fingers in the process. When you got a decent picture you knew you had earned it!

  10. Thanks for this “break” in the digital rush.

    Your coffee time picture even brought me back to the time I “stole” my father’s Kodak Retinette and waste a 24-p kodacolor at an airshow, trying to catch flying aircrafts with a 50 mm !! Thanks for sharing. Enjoy your voigtlander !

  11. The colour casts on the 3rd and 4th photos here, have nothing at all to do with the camera. This camera, like almost all decent film cameras, produces ‘normal’ colours that don’t automatically look like instragram images – that is normally caused by using old out of date film. It’s not the camera!

    All the photographs I have taken with my Vitomatic lla, on new ‘in date’ slide film, look perfectly normal. e.g. http://www.flickr.com/photos/in2classics/8286908667

    • I agree, the washed out colors have nothing to do with using film vs digital. The film must have been very old and dated, poorly scanned or washed out in purpose. These old cameras can produce very sharp images and have been able to do so since the early nineteen hundreds. As for the pictures, they look like simple snap shots to me. Maybe that was the intent?

      • I agree, Michael & Marc. I still shoot my dad’s old 1970’s vintage Yashica Electro35 GS which can produce some excellent images. Unsharp images out of that camera is more the fault of the photographer (me!) than the camera. Being a 35+ year SLR/DSLR shooter, the rangefinder patch method of focusing is something I am getting better at with time….

  12. Nit picking about the pictures in this article aside, the point is very valid. I read somewhere recently that the writer had ‘become poor’ in an attempt to satisfy the pixel gods and I too have come close to being a pauper.

    Do I make better pictures using my Summilux asph than with my Summitar? Since the price of the Lux is 10 times greater you would hope so! But alas, in all honesty, I don’t.

    Don’t fall into the trap of giving sacrifice to the pixel gods and the bokeh deities.. Equally, avoid as much GAS as you can reading websites that push the latest cameras.. Improve your composition and go for a trip to shoot instead.

    Sounds simple… sigh…

    • I fully agree Hugh. Honor the equipment you have (you once thought, when buying it, it was the bees knees) by using it and honing your photographic eye.

      I know, I’ve been there. I stick with the stuff I have now, and will for the next years.

    • Well said, Hugh! I am still shooting with two “vintage” Nikon D2H cameras and a Yashica Electro35 GS. Pixel peeping has become so crazy these days! I have pre-ordered a Fuji X100s (want a carry around camera that is light and straight forward) but I have been reading online about the problems with the current camera raw converters and how they fail to translate the Fuji X-Trans CMOS sensor. But the images that are shown are down into the individual pixels! I don’t look at individual pixels but the entire image!!

  13. This is the problem with modern photography, anyone can do it to a marginally ok degree at this point. So all these people who do that, also love to share their worthless opinion.

    The tones in these shots are eye pleasing. I enjoy that they are non instigram photos, with colors and tonality that quite literally has created instagram. It’s like a history lesson!

    Not every photo ever taken has to be fregin OMG so artsy man…just feel it man….it’s a photo it can be ANYTHING you want. Fine art, abstract, documentary, WHATEVER!

    Just enjoy life for gods sake, and take some nice snaps once in a while with equipment you enjoy using. Awh, how zen of me to say!

  14. Spending tens of thousand dollars on a piece of brick just for its perceived status and producing OOF pictures IS burgeois!

  15. You’re absolutely right, Dro. The essence of the picture is the subject. And IMO things like composition, framing and timing (for moving objects) have (much) more importance than absolute sharpness or the most beautiful bokeh, because they really contribute to the message. Moreover, I see many pictures where it’s clear that the photographer has been seized by achieving absolute technical perfection, but in the meanwhile produced a boring image.

  16. What I love about this site is that Steve will publish just about anything. No doubting this is a great idea from a passionate user, but surely you could have put slightly more effort in with the subject matter and post processing? I mean, two pics of your dog…?

    • Believe me, I pass on about 3 articles a day, I do not publish “anything” but I also am not out only looking to post professional shots, or the same old street nonsense day in and day out that we have all seen a million times, or India portraits that have been done over and over and over again. There is much more to photography than that and millions of everyday people love to shoot as well, and what they shoot is just as important to them as what you shoot is to you. I will feature those who are passionate and love what they do. Many of us get enjoyment out of photography just by shooting our kids, pets, and daily life. I am just as happy to feature that, if not more so than the same old thing day in and day out of street, perfectly lit studio shots, etc. Maybe that is why this site has so many passionate followers because my belief is that we are all equal. X is not better than Y, Y is not better than X. I am certainly not better than anyone here, nor is anyone else. It’s all subjective and yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

      • Yes. I do photography to please myself, not some perceived audience. Great story here. From time to time I feel like selling all my digital camera gear and going only film. In fact, I may just make that a goal. Will be hard to let go of my Canon 5D MkII but it sits unused most of the time anyway…. I love articles about film cameras. Thanks Steve!

      • LOL I’m like Randy from South Park after loosing at Wheel of Fortune!? I haven’t yet decided to respond to that “article” or not. Needless to say, that this one comment motivated such a hateful rant I find bizarre in the extreme. There’s a term for reactions like that; it’s called “climbing the ladder of inference”. I think Steve must be just about knocking on heavens door by now?

    • The moment I saw the two dog photos, I loved them. There is something interesting about the first one in particular. I love how the colours of the rug and the dog have been rendered. Considering the subject of the article, they both seemed like excellent examples of what the author was discussing.

      Then I went on to read the comments in this, and the article Steve wrote regarding ‘beauty being in the eye of the beholder’, and realised I’m an example of exactly that. Without any prior knowledge I loved the photos of the dogs and could fully understand the authors motivation to rediscover old cameras and shoot film.

      As Steve said, we’re all different and like different things. No need to be critical of the fact, just accepting of it.

      • LOL are you serious? I said I didn’t like two pictures! It’s one guys opinion among many. You have a different opinion and that’s great. If the OP/Steve/whoever can’t take that for what it is (and I’m not the only one who thinks so reading the comments) then I feel sorry for you.

        My goodness, if you are posting your work on such a popular website, you’re not going to get everyone gushing over every image. It’s called diversity of opinion and free speech, and was never meant to be derogatory or rude. If you read my post, my first sentence was *not* sarcasm and actually a compliment of this site. Then I compliment the idea and passion of the user. Then say it could have been executed better with different subject matter. Hardly a capital offense now is it? That this comment motivated an entire hateful rant about trolls is beyond my comprehension, and in fact worthy in my opinion of an apology.

        I honestly can’t believe you suggest I cannot be critical. This is a comments forum on the internet, a place for open discussion. The idea that people can’t from time to time be critical is absurd, and it’s up to the maturity of the OP to take the good with the bad when posting on such a highly frequented website.

        For the record, I am *not* the same Paul who commented earlier in this article.

  17. If you enjoyed this then that is good enough reason for you to do it. That said, sharpness and bokeh are not a luxury or bourgeois. They are a quality that usually make a photo better. Bourgeois? Are you kidding?

  18. A picture taken from flckr and a subject line alot like “Sharpness is a bourgeois concept” – H. Cartier Bresson.
    This post makes me uncomfortable.

    • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or one mans junk is another mans treasure!
      And I thought photographers were part of a universal brotherhood, but when it comes down to it, it’s just another big boys pissing contest for some people…….
      Personally, I think they’re good images, with a quality befitting the camera.
      No one starts off a pro, we all have to learn, and keep on learning, and swapping cameras, discovering the ins, outs and limitations of each individual camera will help you improve, I think this is what the poster is getting at, sometimes we have to go back, to go forward, to understand the process, not just wield a box with a button that makes nice images when you plug it into a computer.
      Film evokes feelings and memories, memories are not all pin sharp, and in glorious colour balance, they are hazy and muted, worn round the edges, that why Lomo goes from strength to strength, and why we have apps like Hipstamatic, giving our cold digital iPhone snaps a fake analogue soul.
      Sorry if I’m sounding like the lo-Fi defender, but I like Lo-Fi just as much as I do pin sharp DSLR, my junk store Yashica rangefinder that leaks light, and battered OM 1 have given me as much joy as my canon DSLR . Better watch what you say about Amateurs! there’s more of us than you pros!

    • I have to correct – some amateur photos are simply stunning!

      but here?
      I can’t see anything here that hasn’t been done by millions of 13-year-olds with an Iphone and Instagram.
      Sometimes in the posts here people revert to old equipment to produce some magical photos, which incorporate the strengths of this equipment, it’s weaknesses and flaws, and a great photographic look.

    • I am sorry but I think those are awful. They look like they were shot with expired film and the compositions are sloppy.

  19. Really beautiful shots. I epically like the second one of the dog. It’s got a really gorgeous muted look to it. Nice job.

    • Me too (about the slightly muted colours). This reminds me a little of some of the colour work that Patrick LaRoque does with his Fuji X cameras. I wonder what film he was using?

  20. That Voigtlander was a camera I would have wanted as a kid of about 12. I got use of Carl Ziess Ikona, 6x6cm with a f2.8 Tessar or my fathers Bessler Topcon, a 35mm camera. It had a light sensor etched on the reflex mirror, so it would measure the light coming right from the lens, I think it caught on. The camera that I bought myself was a Mamiya Family camera, 35mm leaf sutter wonder with a lens ( that’s all I say). The pictures I took with it were good. People do not realize the excellent film cameras to be had! Film is still a great art medium. PS isn’t Bokeh, some new word for out focus elements of a scene, like “Circles of Confusion”. When I saw that Voigtlander it was in displace box, being sold as new… Thanks.

  21. Excellent write up and some cool images Dro! The bonding part with a camera is very important and especially with Leica but I agree sometimes it is fun to switch medium to just enjoy photography.

    Regards,
    Jerry

  22. I bought a Vito CL for £12.99 (just under $20) and then a mint condition Vitomatic for £30 ($45). Both are really nice cameras and work perfectly. The Vitomatic especially, takes really sharp and contrasty photographs, though you need slide film to get the best from it. I’d much rather send those images to my Flickr than my digital images. They have more soul.

    Beautiful cameras too and gloriously retro.

  23. Very nice photos and reminders of the film age–can’t compare with today’s digital cameras for producing great photos though.

  24. I agree with this sentiment. To me composition and subject matter are all that matter in a photograph. I’ve seen intriguing deliberately out of focus images, and images with essentially unlimited depth of field i.e. landscapes shot with wide angles……

    This article will just strike up the endless your camera doesn’t matter debate, and the next post people will argue about IQ between system X and Z.

    @Steve that is why I love the daily inspirations! Its about photography, and there is often a lot of that on this website especially when you hold contests.

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