CORBIJN'S FOCUS

At the moment, Anton Corbijn's work is presented in a double exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum and fotomuseum in The Hague.

What struck me most when watching the pictures was Corbjin's use of focus. Often, he uses a shallow depth of field and the focus is not always where one would expect it. Traditionally, the focus of a portrait should be on the closest eye and the depth of field on the whole face, or at least from the nose to the ears. However, Corbijn often focuses on the background or other body parts, or doesn't show the face at all. Very often, the portrayed persons are shown in their context, in order to convey more about them than a facial expression that may be hard to decipher. The context reveals more about the situation: the time, the place, the mood.

How can it be that his pictures are so popular while violating the basic principles of portrait photography? Indeed, the principles are not cast in stone like laws of nature. Nevertheless, one might wonder what's wrong with the rules. On the other hand, maybe the pictures are not portraits in the conventional sense. Indeed, rather than portraits, these are Corbijn's impressions of a person's personality. Maybe, this is where we touch the exhibition's open question: is Corbijn's photography art?

Assuming it is art - what is the secret of Corbijn's art? Is it the perfection of his photographic technique? Apparently not. Rather, it's the intimacy and strength of his bond with the people he portrays. It his interest in his subjects. His strong interest in music drove him to get close to its protagonists. His dedication and the intensity of the musicians' lives enable powerful and intense expression that goes way beyond a catalogue of pretty faces.

What can we learn from this? That it's utterly important to concentrate on your individual interest in your subject. You can only shoot well what touches you. Your affinity with the subject makes the picture - and your applied knowledge of photographic technique and artistic experience (colours, composition, ...), as well as the rules and the knowledge and experience about when to apply or break them. Most of us amateur photographers would have deleted the out-of-focus pictures right away, but maybe we should better think twice. Stay true to yourself and take pictures of what is close to your heart. Dedication and persistence pay off.

What do you think?

Here is a video interview with Anton Corbijn (vimeo).

Finally, some examples of his "portraits" (all rights are respected).
















And the opposite, just to prove that rules can be of good use, too ;-)