On Assignment: the TBM breakthrough

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Today’s post is about a job I did at the start of January – the world’s premier maker of tunnel-boring machines, Herrenknecht (there are actually quite a surprising number) hired me to document the operation and breakthrough of their first variable-density boring machine*, which happened to be at work underneath Kuala Lumpur as part of the greater Klang Valley subway/ mass transit project. Up til this point, we have a pretty pathetic train system and monorail that doesn’t cover more than 3-4km; we don’t have a unified public transport system which combine with poor traffic management creates legendary jams**.

*Kuala Lumpur has a mix of rock and clay underneath it; you need a special machine to bore through both simultaneously – the machines for rock are too slow with clay and it also clogs the outlet ducting, and the machines for clay simply won’t cut rock.

**In the past, it has taken me up to 2 hours to travel the 1.5km from home to office at the wrong time. If you’re wondering why I didn’t just walk, try doing that in 35 C heat, 80+% humidity and the business suits that you’re expected to wear – not that clothes mean you’re any more or less competent at doing an office job…

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Photoessay: Melbourne monochromes, part II

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The continuation and completion of the previous photoessay.

It occurs to me I never addressed why these images were presented as monochrome rather than color – Australia has wonderfully intense blue skies (I suspect this has something to do with the ozone layer, or lack of it at those latitudes) which in turn produce extremely intense colours. Personally, and I suspect also for a lot of other people, monochrome images are associated with a sort of timeless quality; I don’t – and didn’t – want the impressions to be affected by my current color choices and preferences. It’s one of the reasons we associate certain color palettes with certain eras in history – think of the 1960s and 1970s, or late 1980s, for instance; unfortunately I suspect the current period is going to be defined by over filtering, low-fi and HDR. The least I can do is spare my subjects from that…

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Photoessay: Melbourne monochromes, part I

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This photoessay is the first part of my monochrome work from the Melbourne workshop in March; some of my students may recognise the images. I’ve been criticised in the past for not getting ‘close enough’ for my images to qualify as street photography, so I’m not going to claim it as such even though there’s no strict definition of the genre to begin with. Rather, it continues a theme I’ve been exploring for the past couple of years: the exploration of people in their environment, and the idea of modern man in context as a species as opposed to an individual. Perhaps I should take up social anthropology in my spare time…

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Images to be remembered for

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Name any one of the most famous and prolific photographers, and chances are you can probably remember only a small handful of their images. Even more surprisingly, if you spend a bit of time digging into their published collections, you’ll find that there are dozens more that you probably like better than their famous ones; photography is, after all, personal and subjective. But think about this for a moment: assuming that what you see is only what they choose to show you (being the effect of conscious exclusion at work again) – it makes you wonder exactly what didn’t make the cut.

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Photoessay: Living the Australian Dream, part II: signs of life

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Dinner out

This set continues my ‘Australian Dream’ mini series – think of it as a small exhibition in instalments, or a little series of observations on the Australian psyche from an outsider’s point of view – well, not a total outsider because I did live there during my childhood. Today we add the protagonists. To quote Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”.

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Photoessay: Living the Australian Dream, part I: the landscape

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The set

Interestingly, the notion of the ‘Australian Dream’ is much like the American one: a land of opportunity, space, freedom, big skies, friendly people and a relaxed, laid-back lifestyle. Though I grew up in Melbourne until I was 9, I haven’t been back in nearly 18 years; I was surprised by how much the place had changed, and at the same time, how much it hadn’t. There was a sense of international polish about it that wasn’t there before, or perhaps I hadn’t noticed it.

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Defining the shooting envelope

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The latent consultant in me emerges.

I’ve gotten a number of emails recently asking for me to define the meaning of ‘shooting envelope’ – it’s a term which I use quite a lot in my articles and reviews, and it appears I’ve been rather remiss in explaining exactly what I mean by it. We’ll remedy that today, and explain why it matters.

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Achieving visual consistency

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One of the questions I’m asked also (unsurprisingly) happens to be one of the biggest challenges for a lot of people: how to achieve visual consistency across multiple systems/ cameras/ media, and across multiple subjects. Though the latter is really getting into the question of what constitutes style and how can one consistently apply it, there are still things you can do to ensure that you are in control of the final presentation: not your camera. I certainly cannot tell a client ‘sorry, it looks different because I used two different cameras.’

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Photoessay-review: A rainy evening, and summary thoughts on the Nikon D4

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The Nikon D4 might be old news now that the D4s has been around for a couple of months, but given the diminishingly incremental improvements between each cycle, there’s less of a penalty for opting for an older camera than you might think. And even less again once we consider that for most applications, the point of sufficiency was passed a long time ago. A nearly-new D4 made its way into my hands a couple of months ago during the Melbourne workshop. At a shade over US$3,800, it was just too good a deal to pass up. Read on for my summarised thoughts after spending a couple of months taming the beast.

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The limitations of language

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Cloud I.

I have a bit of a problem. In fact, it’s becoming an increasingly large one. Put simply, I’m running out of words to describe the things I’m seeing and the visual concepts I’m trying to explain; and I don’t know if the vernacular even exists. I suspect it doesn’t, but then again, I’m sure there are English speakers with greater vocabulary than me for whom it does. A large portion of you probably think this is stating the obvious; it is. But we reach a point beyond which it becomes impossible to progress further without some sort of common baseline accurately and consistently describe what it is we’re intending to convey; or more specifically, to ensure that what I’m saying and imagining are the same things as what you’re hearing and seeing in your own mind.

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