I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve mentioned ‘the four things’ in any context – teaching, essay, article, review, photoessay…and promptly realised that there’s actually no article in which I explain and detail them comprehensively. Granted, there’s a sort of semi-prioritized proto-version in these articles (first part, second part) on what makes an outstanding image; I go through it in quite some detail as it forms the underlying structure of the making outstanding images workshop series, and of course I go into significantly more detail in the teaching videos (episodes 1-3) including examples – but after wrapping up the San Francisco Masterclass yesterday, I was looking through the archives recently and didn’t find any solid mention of it anywhere. So, here goes.
I think I’m a formalist at heart. I need that sense of logic and control to feel relaxed; I suppose some people will call that being anal retentive or a control freak. Or that my images lack soul and are flat and boring. I defend that by knowing that it’s all personal opinion, anyway. Perhaps this is why architecture appeals to me. On one hand, really interesting architecture is both visually satisfying and at the same time usable by the people it was designed for; on the other hand, there’s a lot of architecture that’s unnecessarily complex adornment over a basic structure that wasn’t very well thought out – doors on the wrong side of traffic routes, for instance; passageways and lifts that don’t connect; rooms whose internal layouts you can’t make work without special furniture, and facades that are impossible to clean or maintain. Photographically, finding order and balance in the disorder – especially when the surrounding environment is taken into account – is not as easy as it looks. A building or space is in reality fluid and never really remains in the perfect state envisioned by its creator – he or she cannot foresee exactly all of what might happen in its environment in the future.
At first glance, the headline makes no sense whatsoever. But contemplate a bit further, and you’ll find that it’s a perfect summary of what happens when you turn your passion/ hobby into your job. It’s taken me a while to figure out where the balance lies – and I admit I nearly gave up a couple of times – but I think we’re just about there. Let me explain…
For a fan of abstract geometry, form and texture, Melbourne is an absolute paradise. Being a relatively new country, Australians seem to be far more open to experimentation with modern architecture, progressive design and integration with the unique landscape; the result is an interesting mix of 1940-s feel Chicago in places, Blade Runner and Utopia in others. The result is a place of extreme contrasts; you can see the evolution of postmodern architecture from simple geometric solids – cuboids, trapezoids, cones – to more complex shapes that appear to be formed of recursive application of those shapes. Any decorative elements are simply a further scaling and evolution again of that; there doesn’t appear to be much ornamentation in a classical sense. Perhaps that in itself is a definition of the current architectural gestalt.
An old family photograph: the young man in the center is my grandfather; he passed away 22 years ago in 1992.
Back story: my grandmother’s passing last year and sorting of her effects unearthed a number of photographs from a much earlier era; my guess is the mid 1950s; that’s the better part of 65 years ago. There weren’t that many – about 10 in all. Ostensibly being the authority on all things photographic in the family, they were passed to me for restoration. Combined with a recent SSD failure on my primary machine, it got me thinking on a subject beyond backups: how can we ensure our images survive us? Do we even want them to?
Today’s photoessay-on-assignment-report hybrid comes courtesy of a regular client who both makes their own and OEM watches for other companies. They’re not a big name – you’ve probably never seen the brand outside Asia, if at all – and they’re certainly not competing at the high end, but they do have mass-market volume; it’s a very different sort of assignment to the kind I normally undertake in Switzerland. It doesn’t require much skill to make an exceptional watch made with no consideration for price look exceptional; the challenge there is making it look extraordinary – otherwise your photography has not added any value or even done the object justice. My job here is very different: how does one make a $200-retail watch look like a $2,000++ one?
Following on from the previous photoessay and numerous emails, I thought it’d be useful to repost this article I wrote previously on street photography techniques. Although it’s possible to describe most of them in some detail, full understanding requires both demonstration and practice – this is where the Street Photography video comes in, or alternatively joining one of my workshops. Together with the basic principles of balance, perspective, composition and what makes a good image – these techniques may be used singly or in combination to generate strong street images. In fact, they also apply to documentary and reportage work, too; the only difference between good street photography and photojournalism is that the latter has a consistent theme and subject.
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t shoot that much street photography by either time or output; it just appears that way because a lot of the work I do can’t be published for some time (or at all) due to client embargoes; and by the time I can make it public, I’ve honestly just forgotten or realized that the shoot was so rushed that I didn’t get a chance to shoot any ‘making of’ b-roll. Hence the large quantity of street photography. By a similar token, I don’t believe in a conventional definition of street photography; I think of it as something on the documentary spectrum but towards the end where you don’t have a set objective or assignment, and just record what you see. In some ways, that makes it more difficult because you have to make or interpret your own story from a bunch of usually discordant pieces.
Following on from an interesting suggestion made by knickerhawk in the comments section of an article a little while back on achieving visual consistency, here’s both a little test/ exercise for you and a little more expounding on the idea of sufficiency. Read on if you think you’re up for the challenge.
I was in Singapore a few months ago both on assignment and for a private workshop; one of the things I’ve always enjoyed photographing is abstraction in reflection: there is no simpler decomposition of the image to shape, texture and colour than this. Fortunately, the weather was obliging on one of the days, and there’s plenty of such opportunities in Singapore. Despite what you might think, I shot quite a lot more than just the usual buildings in buildings…in fact, you’ll notice the second half of the set is quite a bit more whimsical and less brutalist/formalist.