Dengue fever isn’t fun, as we discovered a couple of months ago. Perhaps the worst thing about it is the fact that there’s actually very little modern medicine can do for you other than paracetamol to alleviate the high fever, saline drips and other fluids to help rehydrate…and if things get really bad, a blood transfusion to boost your platelets and white blood cell count – falling counts are a consequence of the virus and dangerous because secondary infection or haemorrhaging. Beyond that, you’ll feel very easily fatigued for weeks afterwards. Everybody else can’t do much but watch and help you through the normal ablutionary tasks that suddenly become enormously difficult with low energy levels. My wife was unfortunate enough to have gotten it a few months ago – right before we were supposed to go to London, which resulted in me travelling alone – and she describes it as an incredibly bad non-stop fatigue – once the discomfort of the fever goes away, and before the itchiness of the tertiary rashes set in.
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.
I think I’m a formalist at heart. I need that sense of logic and control to feel relaxed; I suppose some people will call that being anal retentive or a control freak. Or that my images lack soul and are flat and boring. I defend that by knowing that it’s all personal opinion, anyway. Perhaps this is why architecture appeals to me. On one hand, really interesting architecture is both visually satisfying and at the same time usable by the people it was designed for; on the other hand, there’s a lot of architecture that’s unnecessarily complex adornment over a basic structure that wasn’t very well thought out – doors on the wrong side of traffic routes, for instance; passageways and lifts that don’t connect; rooms whose internal layouts you can’t make work without special furniture, and facades that are impossible to clean or maintain. Photographically, finding order and balance in the disorder – especially when the surrounding environment is taken into account – is not as easy as it looks. A building or space is in reality fluid and never really remains in the perfect state envisioned by its creator – he or she cannot foresee exactly all of what might happen in its environment in the future.
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.
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.
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.
Not much to say about this one: I, as much as the next guy, love a good sunset. I can’t honestly think of a better way to end the day. You may well find several of these to be in an eminently painterly style, too. Enjoy! MT
Today’s photoessay is the continuation of the curated collection of people I photographed in Havana – (part I is here) the tricky part was to try to avoid cliches (unsuccessful, I think) but at the same time get a decent representation of activity. I think many of my students did this better – my Asian reserve prevented me from sticking my head into doorways and windows of homes (though that’s different if I’m on assignment) – but beyond that, I prefer to photograph people in a natural state without them being conscious of my presence and changing their behaviour to suit; whatever it was they were doing that was interesting in the first place would almost certainly cease and change.
‘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.
Today’s photoessay is the first part of my report from the streets of Cuba. I tried to go in with as few preconceptions as possible, to just observe and shoot; there’s a little bit of movement away from the anonymity I’d been pursuing in my previous images. Perhaps it’s because the city itself is not anonymous or uniform or soulless or a cookie-cutter copy of every other first world city; the individuals mattered again – even when they were in groups.