There is a technique that Ellen Von Unwerth continually revisits that I’ve never seen any other pro shooter use to such great effect. Utilizing slow shutter speeds, many times she will allow the facial features of her models to be blurred, smeared across the frame, giving a sense of motion and liveliness to her photos.
Understand that this is completely different and separate from an image that is entirely out of focus or blurred due to movement or camera shake which are common techniques. The face is normally considered inviolate and no matter what else is happening, should always be in focus as it is the primary focal point. She turns this maxim on its head by keeping the frame in focus but with shutter speeds slow enough (1/60 of a second or greater) that allow her subject’s face to blur.
This gives her images such vitality, capturing the movement from one fraction of a second to the next, telling the viewer that during this image, things were occurring, the models were in the middle of something, moving onto the next moment. Reminiscent of Francis Bacon, this distortion of the face is many times subtle, sometimes overpowering, and is never at the expense of the mood or expression of the subjects.
I’ve never seen anyone else use this specific technique so effectively again and again. I’ve tried it a few times and my images are just blurred faces with none of the magic Unwerth creates.
I have included the first image for comparison. It is a typical blurred image due to the movement of the subjects within the frame. The following images, however, feature this motion blur constrained to the face.