‘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!
I actually shot very little black and white in Prague; a few hundred from the Ricoh GR, and a couple of rolls with the ‘Blad; of course they were all of varying subjects with a heavy architectural emphasis, but I did get some very satisfying street images out of my time there. Despite the very strong luminance contrast available – October at these latitudes means all-day shadows and intense sun with blue skies – I just found color to pack a little something extra in most situations. That said – this set would not have worked in color at all.
Today’s photoessay continues my exploration of NYC’s streets in black and white. Perhaps I’m being masochist in continuing this series after the dissenting opinions expressed in the comments in Part one (found here) – but once again, photography is subjective interpretation and each observer has their own views and preferences. I happen to like the precision and perfection others call ‘clinical soullessness’ – and I’d argue that the lack of imperfection is a style and skill of its own; consistently being able to find ‘perfect moments’ in a sea of uncontrolled chaos is extremely difficult indeed – which anybody would know if they’ve tried it. Enjoy. MT
Given how ingrained certain locations are in the popular photographic consciousness due to heavy presentation in a particular style by multiple photographers – Paris and NYC in black and white of course come to mind – I think it’s possible to do one of two things: either avoid that style altogether and try to find your own, or explore a little in the genre and see what falls out. I had a chance to try both the last time I was in New York; to be honest, I found B&W with moderate contrast to suit the timeless feel of the location a bit better – as opposed to expressing the fleetingly temporal nature of life. There’s of course no right or wrong. (My attempt at individual style can be found here, in the NYC cinematics photoessay.)