A couple of days ago, we looked at the inexact science of color and emotion: I don’t think anybody is going to argue that the mood and feeling of an image is influenced heavily by the dominant color palette, both in terms of the color of incident/reflected light and the color of the subject elements themselves. But how does this translate to black and white images? Obviously, it’s very possible to do since not every monochrome image feels the same. Even within the same sort of general lighting – say low key – it’s possible to produce variations in mood. How?
Today’s photoesssay is a continuation of the Verticality Project photoessay. I see this as an ongoing study of architecture. The aim is to replicate the feeling you get when you stand at the base of one of these things and look up: a sense of overbearing monolithic massiveness. The choice of a black and white square with no building base is deliberate: the sense of size remains because off the perspective, and the mood is maintained regardless of the color of the sky.
The majority of these were shot in San Francisco and Chicago, with a Pentax 645Z. Enjoy! MT
As you might have gathered, Queenstown turned into a very landscape-photography oriented photography trip; the colors of the landscape were magical, but the variation in light and contrast was even more so – naturally lending itself to fantastic black and white images. Since it was winter, the sun traces an arc across the sky but never shines directly downwards from above – the upshot of this is you can shoot at all times of day. Naturally, I took advantage of it. I drove, stopped where the light arrested me, shot, and moved on. And on one day, spent most of the afternoon in the Arrowtown River delta – formerly the site of the Queenstown gold rush, but now the the home of some pretty spectacular trees – and a riot of colour that will be the subject of a future photoessay. Nevertheless, I felt black and white suited the subject matter quite well, as the trees in winter have this stark beauty to them that I felt was best captured without that sense of ‘life’ that colour imbues.
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.
Today’s post is the conclusion of part one. The abstraction of man in monochrome continues; my own peculiar brand of anthropological observation/ documentary/ street photography. Call it what you will. Perhaps as a consequence of the medium (format), I feel these images are somewhat more structured, ordered and ‘rigid’ than the previous set; that said, I’ve never felt London to be a particularly liberal place – especially the City or any of its other institutions – so perhaps this is actually somewhat appropriate.
The first part of my street photography from London shows life at my favourite 28mm documentary perspective – one I find natural, long enough to be intimate without being too intrusive, but wide enough to take the context of one’s peripheral vision without overly drawing attention to the geometric distortion that happens with even wider lenses. Despite having flirtations with the longer perspective I also carry – in the past 85mm, and now down to 55 or even 40/43mm for medium format – I’ve seldom gone wider than 28mm, just because it’s so instinctive. Or perhaps it’s a product of having spent a year shooting little else, back in 2009.
Many years ago, I lived in London. I’m always told that it’s most people’s aspiration to go there, but to be honest, it’s a place to visit, not one to live – much the same way I see Tokyo. What’s always struck me about it is despite having somewhere around 12 million inhabitants and what often feels like the most densely packed streets and transport systems on earth, you almost always feel alone. In the five years I spent there, I can count the number of random conversations with strangers I’ve had on less than the fingers of one hand – which is to say, far less than any other city I’ve lived in. People just seem to be not so approachable and lost in their own worlds; much like Tokyo, it seems that the less space you have, the more fiercely protective of that space each individual becomes.
I honestly have no idea how many times I’ve posted images from KL. It might be 56 or 30 or 128. I don’t think it matters, anyway. I find quality of vision, and the ability to see, follows a bit of a camel hump: you need some time in a place in order to not be surprised and enraptured by every little thing that breaks your version of normality; a little objectivity and distance helps with quality. A bit more time, and you’re comfortable enough to explore, and have found things off the beaten path to the casual visitor; too much time and you’re jaded. The bigger the city, the longer this takes; but for a relatively small metropolis like the one I live in, that’s not very long at all.
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.
‘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.