I admit it - I have a love-hate affair with the lensbaby. Not because of the images themselves. No, it is more about the way these images are created, the struggle with this difficult baby. It is grumpy, petulant, self-willed and not easy to master. But once you've got it, wonderful images can be made and admired.
Favourite among the 1X lensbaby photographers are dreamy, melancholic black and white landscapes and sea views - with or without a lonely figure in the background or a flight of birds winging to better places.
These are highly romantic images in the art historical sense of speaking. They are ponderous, invite you to have a long and good look - in a way one could call it slow photography. It takes time to make the photograph and to let it sink in when viewing it. These are not photographs one quickly clicks away.
There are of course many other approaches possible and I'll show you some of them in this review.
But first I'd like to introduce two photographers who to me are true masters of the lensbaby: Jørgen Feldstedt and Anne Rose Pretorius.
With his lensbaby Plastic Optic and Zone Plate Optic, Jørgen photographs a silence which feels good and comfortable. His images invite you to look at them for a long time. You let the silence affect you, you feel the mild melancholy. You take possession of the image; the image takes possession of you.
Anne Rose Pretorius
Viewing and contemplating Anne Roses photographs I get the feeling that she has absolute control over her lensbaby. Look at the light, the subtle use of the characteristic lensbaby blur.
But here is more. The grey tones photographs are calm without being dull. Each one is a poem of peacefulness and quiet happiness - with perhaps slight touch of melancholy - and contemplation.
Among 1X lensbaby photographers only a few use colours. Monochrome photographs are mainstream. So I was happy to find the colourful images by Mel Brackstone and Julie Poncet.
Both photos are self portraits, which don't reveal how the makers look. They show us something of their inner self, how they see themselves
"Personally, I'd prefer it if you could make up your own story about what you're seeing, rather than have me spell it out for you, use your imagination!" wrote Mel in the caption to her spirited photograph. So, have a good look at it and decide for yourself what you are seeing
For me it is a colourful and playful dance on the motion of time. While exploiting all you can do with a lensbaby, Mel created a highly original image, describing it as a "self portrait motion blur with lensbaby composer and star aperture".
Julie Poncet's photograph is a special one. It has been made with a lenbaby edge 80 optic - in a way one the successors of the much used plastic optic and the double glass optic. It hasn't the light-hearted playfulness of Mel's self portrait. To me it has a certain severity, which is broken by the full red lips. The covering leaves hide the eyes and that gives the portrait a surreal, estranging touch. It is a wonderful way of seeing.
LAND- & SEASCAPES
Land-and seascapes with a lonely tree or with a lonely are favourite subjects among the 1X lensbaby lovers. I already showed some: "Mind ghost" by Jacob Tuinenga and "Ray of sunlight" by Jørgen Feldstedt at the beginning of this article.
So I searched for something else and found two wonderful but totally different photographs.
Paulo Abrantes' seascape shows more than just these. He shows us a context, a story about two people who just left a wooden building - a beach restaurant or something like that, perhaps. Paulo is a story telling photographer. Have a look at his these examples:
A waving sea of reed and a threatening, moody sky - if the reed were waves, you'd see a sea scape. Sebastian - who also made some lovely winter scapes caught the reed and the clouds in beautiful light and quite a scale of greys. A treat for the eye!
STREET AND SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
There are not too many action photos which are made with a lensbaby. Most subjects are static, moody, dreamy with a touch of melancholy and even a bit heavy handed - well, these aren't. Ina Tänzer and Rui Correia show us that it can be done differently.
Ina Tänzer made her photo "It's time" with a so called Lensbaby Spark - a manually focused lens, which you have to squeeze in order to focus. It sounds easy but it needs a lot of practising before the baby will do what you want it to do. Knowing this, I even more appreciate Ina's photo than I already did. It is wonderful street photography with all the marvels of a successful lensbaby photo.
Rui's photo is one of the most unconventional sports and lensbaby photographs I have ever seen. Its point of view and the use of a lensbaby make it unique. It is dynamic, exiting and very original. Moreover, it is as if you are part of the action of the game. You experience the moment just after the service of the ball that froze above the net. It is all going so fast that a teammate has not yet had time to see where it goes, whether there is indeed a set point made. This is a feast, a real treat for the eye and the mind and so very different from the majority of the sports photos that we can see on the internet and in the newspaper.