As my second book to review, I have chosen….a magazine. Not even a magazine title as a publication in total, but a single edition of that magazine.
The May/June 1997 edition of Photo Techniques magazine changed my life.
In this edition, Mike Johnston introduced a concept to the western world that he and John Kennerdell, a colleague and contributor had been discussing for a while.
It seems John made him aware that the Japanese had for many years categorised lenses with more than the usual measures of quality. They took careful note of the qualities of out of focus blur different lenses rendered and their effect on the images made. They even named the types of blur they discussed.
John Kennerdell, who was living in Japan at the time, had noticed a habit of local reviewers referring to the out of focus (OoF) areas of an image with terms such as Ni-sen (cross-eyed), rather than simply ignoring them all together as reviewers in the west did. Many photographers all around the world used terms like the “draw” or rendering of a lens, but there was little clarity to that thinking other than on a lens by lens basis.
The irony was, the Japanese had been making lenses for a sharpness hungry western consumer, while at home, they often preferred German glass for its less measurable characteristics.
The editor of Photo Techniques, Mike Johnston, decided to make Bokeh* the theme of the May/June 1997 edition. It is important to realise, the term Bokeh and even the line of thought it created had never been used in western photography before this point.
In hindsight, it was a brave move. The predicted result would have probably been a foot note in photographies “odds and sods” ledger, but on a scale no one expected, the concept took off to heights unprecedented. There is now seldom a lens review or conversation to be had about lens character or performance that does not have an element or reference to Bokeh in it. Many lenses now made with Bokeh (or at least one form of it) as their primary design objective. As the article explains, some companies were already trying to satisfy this deeper need of Japanese photographers, by incorporating Bokeh into their designs. Canon seems to have made “good” (smooth and controlled) Bokeh one of the parameters of their new EF lens range as two of the lenses specifically mentioned in the article were from their early “ugly duckling” range. Bronica is also mentioned specifically along side the German makers.
Sorry about the rough and ready pics, but I am not going for archival quality, just the feeling of the actual mag.
Even though I loved the article, I and I guess everyone else out there had little idea how important this would become. Mike followed this thread up in later years on the Luminous Landscape site and others, but this is ground zero. My instant reaction was “some lens very bad, some lens goood :)”, so even I, a fan, did not really get the intended meaning. All Bokeh has it’s place. More recently the 3D vs flat argument has surfaced, which I think is closely linked to Bokeh, so maybe we are entering phase two?
I must admit to being ignorant of the influence Mike Johnston had in the photographic world at this time, but after this article, I became very aware of him. He was a strong voice in the Camera and Darkroom, Darkroom and Photographic Techniques > Photo Techniques and many other books and periodicals.
The very first blog I went looking for when I went “online”, was anything connected to Mike, which turned out to be The Online Photographer. Here you can find a lot more by both he and John Kennerdell, including the article called “in defence of depth” or the anti Bokeh as super shallow DoF only, rallying cry and “A little lens tale” that highlights both long draw Bokeh lenses and lenses that put natural three dimensionality ahead of sterile fault correction (coming to much the same conclusions as Yannick Khong but this time without defined terminology).
Their can, their worms, their cross to bare I guess, but I am glad I was in on the ground floor.
*A term he coined, taken from Boke-Aji or the “flavour of the blur”, used in Japanese art, shortened to Boke with an added h for pronunciation to make Bo as in bone, -Keh as in kettle)