tuula närhinen

BOKEH-circles of confusion

Bokeh derives from Japanese, a noun boke , meaning 'blur', 'haze' or confusing, silly, senile .

As a photographic term, bokeh is used to describe the quality of the areas in the picture which are not in focus but 'fuzzy'. Any bright spot in the background yields a blurred round object also called a circle of confusion. However, if the shape of the diaphragm aperture is other than round, all the out-of-focus bright spots will take up the shape of this new pattern. In this project the shapes used as aperture in front of the lens are Chinese characters (kanji or hanzi). They express concepts - one logogram stands for an entire word.

Bokeh is my attempt to combine western photography with oriental calligraphy. The etymology of photography is “light writing” When light enters the camera through the shape of a Chinese character, the circles of confusion reproduce as writing. The whole image can be thought of as “impregnated” by the meaning of the character in the same way as the smoke perfuming the air of Buddhist temples emanates from an incense burner shaped in form of one of the Sanskrit seed syllables.

Roland Barthes starts his book Empire of signs with a dream of a foreign language that could be known without understanding it. The unfamiliar works as a mirror which reveals the observer's unconscious symbolic order and his/her own role in it. Oriental and western, background and target, meaningful data and visual noise change places and become subject to doubt.

REI - salute, bow, thanks

During my 2 months residency in Japan, I photographed street scenes using a digital SRL with interchangeable kanji shaped apertures carved out of thin metal folio in front of the lens. The characters are selected intuitively and the resulting photographs and videos are arbitrary encounters in urban settings.

More images of the project:







  • BOKEH video1

  • BOKEH video2

  • BOKEH video3

  • BOKEH video4

  • Bokeh exhibited in Kunsthalle studio 9.3. - 14.4. 2013