Sally Mann's sharp AND soft pictures

Discussion in 'Large Format' started by peter_olsson, Jul 5, 2000.

  1. In Sally Mann's beatiful Intimate Family several of the
    pictures are sharp in the middle but feature an abrupt
    decrease in sharpness towards the edges and corners. It's
    not subtle (but strikingly effective).

    <p>

    She uses an 8x10 view camera, but how is the sharp/soft
    effect above achieved? (1) Is it during the taking stage
    or in the darkroom? (2) Is it (as I suspect) an effect of
    using lenses that are made for smaller formats than
    8x10? (3) If none of (1) or (2), what? Coke-bottles?

    <p>

    Thank you for any answer from you knowledgeable large-
    format shooters. Note, this is a technical question,
    not a question on how Sally Mann is able to turn out
    the pictures as she does (which would require a strong
    mother-child bond anyway, in addition to skill).
     
  2. Probably not (2), since the lens wouldn't cover an 8x10" negative - it would only cause severe vignetting. I've seen some (unnamed) filters which may be able to do what you described. These are clear in the centre and get progressively diffused as you go towards the edges of the filter. I'm just guessing here.
     
  3. Sally uses old/"damaged" lenses which barely cover 8x10. She has no
    secret techniques other than developing paper in VERY OLD, extremely
    oxidized film developer and the occasional toning in odd substances
    such as tea.
     
  4. Yes, she experiments with all kinds of old, undistinguished (i.e., not
    Dagors, Artars, etc.) lenses--kind of a large format Holga approach.
    Modern lenses are usually shielded to vignette sharply before the
    image circle degrades. Older lenses may go soft at the corners before
    they begin to vignette.
     
  5. Peter: You can get the same effect with a single element meniscus
    lens. It isn't complicated. A close-up attachment lens designed for
    35mm cameras works well. This is the plus lens that screws into the
    finlter ring of the 35mm lens. Mount it in front of a shutter and you
    are in business. You will have to figure out the f-stops. Good
    shooting.
     
  6. Peter, that should read screws into the FILTER ring of the 35mm lens.
    Sorry about the typo. Doug.
     
  7. There is nothing special in Ms. Mann's photographs of her family. She
    used an 8x10 camera and older lenses with shutters. The photo's that
    you speak of, I believe, were shot wide open with little depth of
    field. You could also achieve this shallow depth by swinging the
    front tilt of the camera up/down. But, I don't believe her older
    camera has this ability.

    <p>

    Now, that her family has grown up, she has started to take landscape
    pictures of the old south. She is using the older lenses with
    all of their problems (some without shutters) for this project. She
    is also using glass plates for many of these photo's. There was an
    artilce in 'View Camera' Sept/Oct 99 concerning this new project.

    <p>

    Personally, I don't care for her new style and I'm appalled at how
    much she's getting for these out of focus vignetted photo's. I don't
    believe these photos would be given a second thought if they were not
    taken by her (or another photographer of her statue).
     
  8. If you look at a lot of work from around 100 years ago, you see
    similar effects. At that time, the Rapid Rectilinear design was
    widely used in large format and it's definition falls off at the edges
    especially if used near wide open. Other designs like the Petzval
    portrait lenses had a curved field of focus (like a saucer); sharper
    in the direct center and softer at the edges--in order to photograph a
    group of say 6 or 8 figures (and get them all in focus), the
    photographer had to arrange them in a semi-circle roughly
    corresponding to the curvature of the lens. Sally Mann has said that
    she tries dozens of old lenses looking for interesting results. The
    Pinkham-Smith, Graf Variable, Spencer Portland, and Wollensak Verito
    were notable for the soft/sharp manipulations with the variations in
    sharpness controlled by the iris and selective focus. The present day
    Imagon has been around at least 100 years and produces similar
    results.
     
  9. As to using a close-up meniscus lens for soft-focus , I get much
    better coverage by mounting the filter behind the shutter rather than
    in front. The front of the filter thus facing the film.
     

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