“Sharpness”, asserted Henri Cartier-Bresson, “Is a bourgeois concept”. In pursuit of sharpness we photographers chase after the best lenses, or lug a large format camera into impossible places like False Kiva. So, is sharpness a prerequisite for a good picture? Depends on what you are trying to say. Many people who see this photo of the silver mine in Creede, Colorado, react with comments about how sharp it is, and how it looks almost like an etching. Actually, this is one of the main reasons I took the picture, and with a very good lens. I wanted to emphasize the detail in the grain of the wooden structure. But then, I also wanted to point out the echoing shapes of the towering structure in the foreground and the mountain in the background. Not to mention the feathery clouds contrasting with the angularity of the building and the rocks in the mountain. So, for this image, sharpness had to be a component.
The previous day, I took this picture of the Great Sand Dunes. It is by no means sharp, nor in my mind, does it need to be. I was interested in the light, the repeating shapes and textures, and the overall drama of the scene. Besides, it would have been nearly impossible to photograph this scene with a large format camera, what with the wind howling at +30mph! Question is, does it succeed? Would sharpness have added anything to the image?
Maybe this image, which isn’t sharp, needs to be printed very large, in order to emphasize the drama of the scene.