What is focus? The difference between sharp and soft? Is that it? No. Is focus expected? Somewhat, but less and less these days. In the 1860’s, Julia Margaret Cameron didn’t care about exact focus for a number of reasons. She said, “What is focus, and who has the right to say what focus is the legitimate focus?” She was heavily criticized and she thumbed her nose at her critics! Yes, she was a bit eccentric [especially for her time] but she was actually on to something – letting go [see blog #8]. She also said that she focused by “feel”.
Cartier-Bresson said that focus was “a bourgeois concept”, though most of his “decisive moments” were sharp. Robert Stivers, a contemporary photographer, never shoots anything in focus, sometimes to the point of almost indistinguishable subject matter. He has published books and gallery exhibitions.
Focus is also the ability to concentrate, create, and move forward with your work. This focus needs to be sharp! Your work may not always have to be in focus these days but your mind does so that you can produce your work. One must focus and concentrate through distraction, uncertainty, procrastination, experimentation, trial and error, astrological signs, the shape of the moon, changing tides, and your own personal mood and energy swings!
So, times and techniques have changed. Focus is not critical anymore. It is almost an additive. If the integrity of the image and the ensuing emotional response is intact, most images are accepted as viable these days. One can be a bit looser about sharpness but you cannot dull or blur your innate desire to work, to produce your art. Go make your own sharp, not-so-sharp decisions as long as you are focused on the bigger picture of creating work. As long as your images have impact, elicit emotional response, and are remembered, who cares if they are sharp anymore?