The soft-focus lens and Anglo-American pictorialism
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The history, practice and aesthetic of the soft focus lens in photography is elucidated and developed from its earliest statements of need to the current time with a particular emphasis on its role in the development of the Pictorialist movement. Using William Crawford's concept of photographic 'syntax', the use of the soft focus lens is explored as an example of how technology shapes style. A detailed study of the soft focus lenses from the earliest forms to the present is presented, enumerating the core properties of pinhole, early experimental and commercial soft focus lenses. This was researched via published texts in period journals, advertising, private correspondence, interviews, and the lenses themselves. The author conducted a wide range of in-studio experiments with both period and contemporary soft focus lenses to evaluate their character and distinct features, as well as to validate source material. Nodal points of this history and development are explored in the critical debate between the diffuse and sharp photographic image, beginning with the competition between the calotype and daguerreotype. The role of George Davison's The Old Farmstead is presented as well as the invention of the first modern soft focus lens, the Dallmeyer-Bergheim, and its function in the development of the popular Pictorialist lens, the Pinkham & Smith Semi-Achromatic. The trajectory of the soft focus lens is plotted against the Pictorialist movement, noting the correlation betwixt them, and the modern renaissance of soft focus lenses and the diffuse aesthetic. This thesis presents a unique history of photography modeled around the determining character of technology and the interdependency of syntax, style and art.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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