pied-winged swallow

Above: A sharply-focused photograph of a pied-winged swallow. Credit: Charles Sharp.

Focusing Fetish

The photographer's action of focus-hunting or focus-pulling used to be a primary photo-activity--these days manual rack-focusing is not something that is really much part of photography anymore. For me, the act of focusing is truly requisite to my photo-enjoyment: if I love photography then it is because I enjoy focusing on things. Focus-hunting on a manual 35mm SLR--where focus is achieved by twisting a focus-ring on the lens-barrel--is, for me, an authentically fetishized, eroticized experience.

For me, focus-hunting is the most enjoyable aspect of practical photography. As the camera-user turns the focusing-ring back and forth the image should move smoothly, creamily, sweetly--steadily--in-and-out of focus, at their touch; at their command. In my perception, only a camera that can be focused in this way is worth using for photography. And for me, for the same reason, auto-focus is a disaster of photography. For me, a camera which does not offer the user the opportunity to manually focus-hunt is a poor camera--so, for example, for me, an iPhone is a poor camera.

Focusing is more photo-specific than, say, viewfinder-based composing, which is an activity that is also carried on by the painter in different ways (the painter's basic viewfinder rectangle is the edges of the painting). So, for me, the act of focusing is the photo sine qua non (SOED: indispensable, absolutely essential). The process of focus-hunting is the physical act that also connects the photographer to the scientist's microscope, the voyeur's binoculars, and, of course, the assassin's telescopic sight.

(3 September 2018)