Summer is a good time for architectural photoigraphy. From a photographic standpoint, colors of course become more intense, but the contrast is also helpful for monochrome photography, and with the right filters (film or digital), extra punch and contrast can be given to skies. Given London’s relatively high latitude, even during the height of summer the sun doesn’t go perpendicularly overhead as it does in the tropics – which means not being quite so restricted about shooting during noon.
The face of London has changed so much in the last few years since my previous visit – 2010 – that frankly there are parts of the Square Mile I no longer recognise. (Never mind the fact that it’s also spread northwards towards the Barbican.) I have to admit that driving through it was an extremely strange feeling – as though an American, or perhaps Japanese (due to irregular street layouts) city had been plonked there with towering edifices of steel and glass. As you all know, I like photographing these things, so a return trip had to be scheduled.
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.
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.
‘Project’-type photography – images shot to a theme as an exercise or assignment or with a view to an eventual exhibition – is generally a good way to motivate you to shoot if you’re stuck for inspiration. It narrows down the entire universe of possible subjects to just a few, or one. Or a single style. That restriction prevents the mental anguish of overload: either too many things to shoot, or nothing that really stands out in a visual barrage. If you’ve extensively shot the place you live in, it’s probably the former; the result is that you don’t land up photographing unless you take a trip or there’s an event – i.e. something out of the ordinary. The latter is what happens during that trip: perhaps there’s no inspiration, or there are just too many possible subjects, which result in a photographer losing focus and making a weak portfolio. Focus of effort is therefore generally a good idea. Believe it or not, this is actually the first intensely focused project of its sort I’ve attempted.
Buildings, architecture and abstract geometry are amongst my favourite subjects. Actually, I got that back to front: the idea of abstraction and deconstruction of composition into considerations of pure colour and form is probably the underlying linkage between all of my images. As a result, buildings and architecture rank high on my list of preferred subjects because they are very conducive for doing just that: they’re static, so you can take your time with the composition; they reflect their environments – or not – and change in personality as changing light plays off different surfaces and textures in different ways; finally, there are always interesting details incorporate into the structures which are a reflection of their architects; much as a photograph is a reflection of the photographer.
I’m pretty sure none of the architects or designers involved with this project could have envisioned the sightlines I used for these images, or if they did, it’s almost uncertain that they would have been able to forsee the changes in the environment surrounding the buildings. Some believe that photography is no more than a derivative work of somebody else’s primary creation; I of course disagree – and that will be the subject of a future article.
It’s been a little while since I posted any images from Kuala Lumpur; the truth is that I don’t actually shoot that much in my home city these days. Partially it’s because I feel I’ve really plumbed the depths of most parts of the city; partially it’s because I try to keep some potential in reserve for when I have to go out and review a camera – finding new material in a city in which you’ve shot close to 200,000 frames is actually quite tough.
Following one from part one – part two focuses on the little touches that add character to a building, and if done well, reflect a little of the society that created them. I like to think of them as stamps or quirks of individuality, and something which I consciously look for when I travel to places with a strong design culture.
No words today, just a series of images for you to enjoy. Various architectural details from my last trip to Amsterdam, shot with the Hasselblad 501C, 80/2.8 CF T* on Fuji Acros. Some of you may recognize these images from the November print sale; others may be enjoying a large print on their walls :) MT
These images were made during the October 2013 Making Outstanding Images Workshop in Amsterdam; I will be holding three more of these in Melbourne, Sydney and London later this year. Click here for more info, and to sign up.