Today’s photoessay is a little out of sequence – it is the first set of little snippets of life captured during the Hanoi Cinematic Masterclass earlier in the year, but which until now have somewhat defied curation into a finished set (I blame that more on my schedule than anything). They are perhaps not cinematic in the traditional dramatic sense, but I do think they do make for interesting standalone viewing. I suppose that’s what unifies them: being a small window into another place. Enjoy. MT
I’m going to start by making two seemingly unrelated statements. 1. It is difficult, if not impossible, to turn ‘off’ your photographic eye once it has been turned on. 2. You will never get a better shot than a local. How are they related? Firstly, if you stay in a place long enough, you get to see it under all kinds of lighting conditions; this can make a huge difference to the presentation of the subject. The chance of your visit intersecting with the optimal (or most interesting) light is slim; a skilled photographer can close the gap somewhat through compositional ability, but you can’t add shadows afterwards. Secondly, we spend more time than anybody else in our own usual domestic circles of orbit – home, work, car, commute etc. It is easy to become immune to this and walk past a potentially interesting scene because we dismiss it offhand as ‘seen it before’. Not walking past and being compelled to stop and take a closer look is what differentiates the serious photographer from the casual one: I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve randomly taken a shot of something inside my own home because the light on that particular day of the year happens to be coming from the right direction and it isn’t overcast. And it’s almost always a fast opportunistic grab, which means whatever is to hand – since even I don’t walk around the apartment with a camera, that means my iPhone. It’s a good practice exercise I can heartily recommend to anybody. Enjoy!
There are cities and places that never run out of inspiration or material to photograph because of weather, seasons, light, change, or sheer scale – no matter how many times you go back. Then there are cities and places that you exhaust in a day or two. And others that have hidden depths to plumb. And still others where you have to methodically work through all of the not so nice stuff in the hope that you may eventually luck out with good light and stumble upon some little interesting unknown vignette on the day you happen to be out. Perhaps I’m jaded, but Kuala Lumpur falls into the latter category. Despite being tropical, our weather is mostly overcast and hazy; bright, directional light is rare and lasts only a few hours at most – usually when you’re not in a position to make the most of it.
Even though humans have become increasingly urbanised and there seems to be an overwhelming desire to ‘move to the city’, we still need the occasional natural interlude to remind us we aren’t robots of capitalism*. If anything, I find that natural elements stand out more by their relative absence; the curious thing is everything you see in this set was shot either in town or within a short distance of civilisation. They are the results of several expeditions with no more solid objective than wander out with a camera and see what falls out of it. Photography with and objective helps one to focus and curate pre-capture; though I find this still has to be balanced out with occasional photography with no objective to both relax and open up opportunities for creative experimentation. MT *Though the constant hunt for the camera unicorn is quite another matter entirely. This set was shot with various hardware that might perhaps have seemed appropriate at the time, but was later proven otherwise… [Read more…]
What I’ve always found amazing is how completely inconspicuous and transparent mobile phones are. They’ve become such an ubiquitous part of daily life that they’re not noticed; like hats in the 20s and 30s. Not having one is the exception. Surprisingly, I’ve also found that aiming your phone at something to take a picture – complete with awkward stance, delicate ‘I’m-going-to-drop-this-thing-becuase-the-ergonomics-are-bad’ finger poses and device held at arms’ length – is completely ignored even though it’s a lot more obvious than using a camera discretely. Have we learned to filter it out during the few short years of mobile photography? Evidently so. I’ve gone from seeing a cameraphone as completely useless to a curiosity and masochistic challenge to an interestingly stealthy way of observing the world: it has properties that cannot be replicated by other cameras, which in turn result in fairly unique images. First of course is ubiquity and stealth; second is silence; third are generally fast/intuitive interfaces (tap to focus, expose AND shoot!). You can get in close and not be seen. Or be seen and nobody feels intimidated, at least in my experience. I find this odd since you’re far more likely to post on FB with your iPhone than your 4×5… In any case, I present today a series of what I’d think of as observations – both as observer, and observed, and an observer observing the observers. Enjoy. MT
Venice in winter is grey, with occasional Canaletto skies when the clear window happens to coincide with sunset. But for the most part, light is meagre but nicely angled. Life continues as normal for the inhabitants and tourists, though; in fact, it’s getting increasingly more difficult to spot a local at all; they’re a minority in their own city, which is a little sad. The unifying theme throughout these images is that with the exception of one or two, all of the protagonists are locals. They’re a little bit more elegant, don’t carry backpacks or cameras, and walk with purpose rather than dissembly – here’s to the Venetians.
This series was shot during the Venice Masterclass with a Ricoh GR, Pentax 645Z, 55/2.8 and 150/3.5 lenses, and post processed mostly using the low key and balanced workflows in The Monochrome Masterclass.
Motorcycles are a core part of Vietnamese life – transport, lounge, freedom, place of work, revenue generator – to name just a few functions. It is impossible to go anywhere in Hanoi without having to avoid one, or them avoid you. They are both subject and context and ubiquitous foreground. It amazes me every time that there aren’t more road traffic accidents (but then again, they don’t move that fast) and that anybody can find their bike in the massive ranks after leaving it there for more than a few hours – the ‘backspace’ might well change quite markedly after that time as people depart and arrive.
But that does bring us back to the core function of the bike: to serve the people. It was once postulated that if aliens came from another planet and observed earth, they might well assume cars to be the intelligent life form and us merely parasites – the same is true for motorcycles. We must therefore also not forget whom they are meant to serve…
We frequently encounter everyday objects or miniature tableaux of objects that hold our attention for their texture, whimsy or simply pleasing nature; how often do we attempt to photograph and capture these? Personally, that answer is not really often enough, so I’ve been consciously going about attempting to do so whenever the opportunity presents itself, with whatever hardware I happen to have to hand at the time. The challenging part isn’t so much capturing the visually interesting bits: it’s excluding the ugly, discordant, incoherent surroundings that distract too much rather than provide contrast and context. Personally, I feel the resulting images actually work best with no context; that way we are able to enjoy them serendipitously without other considerations intruding and ruining the illusion of perfection. This is pure photography – a reduction of the world to nothing more than light, color and form, and a development on the ideas in this article. Enjoy! MT
Images from this series were processed with PS Workflow II.
The world is acquiring a sort of homogeneity. I see it when I travel, I see it in the city changing around me. But curiously the little things that used to give a place character – the things that sat silently in the background, like a style of roofing or a type of tile or even brickwork – are slowly giving way to these soulless edifices of concrete and glass. They are the pinnacle of big corporate anonymity: nobody knows what goes on inside, nobody knows who the real owners or the real powers that be are, and the organisation has no personable name or face. Much like the buildings they inhabit: they take on a chameleon-like character and merely reflect the world around them but offer no soul of their own. What goes on within is kept secret behind a mirror. Layers are hidden inside other layers with yet more layers within. Welcome to the fragile brave new world; it’s like walking on shells of glass. MT
I’m presenting the second part of the Construction photoessay today – here, the individuals slowly recede into the context of the greater project and become important contributing parts of the whole. The ‘context’ is so large it often overwhelms everything else – I personally find the coordination part of the work amazing because once you’re on site, it’s very easy to get lost in the details. Large prints would of course work best to show the scale of many of these developments, but there are still limitations to the internet :) [Read more…]