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.
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.
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…
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…
Today’s photoessay contains images I initially shot for a client much earlier in the year; the German tunnel-boring specialists Herrenknecht and MMC-Gamuda for the greater Kuala Lumpur mass transit project. The project itself will bring a unified rail system to Klang Valley over the next five years; in the meantime, it’s utter chaos while everything is being dug up or diverted so overhead pylons can be put up. I was hired to document some of the underground work.
Today, we’re taking a little break from the travel-themed images I’ve been posting of late, and return to nature somewhat. I’ve always found something compelling about trees; I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s some deep-rooted part of our subconscious that calls for an occasional visual break from the uniformly geometric concrete we live in, and an embracing of the naturally fractal and chaotic world for a change instead. Judging from the feedback on previous images and photoessays, I’ve also found this to be the case with a lot of other people, too.
In an ideal world, the art of seeing and composition should be independent of one’s surroundings, subjects or location. Or at very least, one should attempt it. Even though it’s almost always easier for us to previsualize compositions when we are in an unfamiliar or new environment – that which is different always stands out the most – it’s good practice to see what can be found closer to home. I like to give myself this challenge on a fairly regular basis to keep things fresh; after all, if you can find a new and compelling image in a very familiar situation, it’s all the more likely you’ll be able to make one when you’re on assignment or travelling.
The second part of the monochrome photoessay from Prague was shot on film, with a Hasselblad 501C and my favourite B&W film – Fuji Acros 100. To be honest, given the tight quarters, I’d have preferred to have had something either a little wider or a little longer – preferably both – to give me some additional ability to add context, or compress (especially with buildings clinging to hills in the background). Nevertheless, we make do with what fits inside our camera bags – after making provisions for film, I didn’t have any space left for lenses!