Photoessay: Singapore architecture

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Formal pond

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.

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Photoessay: Melbourne architecture

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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.

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Photoessay: Mono street photography from Singapore

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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.

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Photoessay: Reflections on Singapore

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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.

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Photoessay: Urban evenings

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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

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Photoessay: People of Cuba, part II

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Soldiers, I. Apparently you are not supposed to photograph them, or secure installations. When faced with this kind of challenge I invariably have to get an image…

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.

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Photoessay: The Verticality Project

Verticality I
I: Kuala Lumpur

‘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.

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Photoessay: People of Cuba, part I

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One suitcase, many possible professions

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.

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Photoessay: Isolation in Tokyo

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The more time I spend in places like Tokyo – big cities, specifically – the more I get the impression that people fight harder and harder to maintain their own personal space; it’s almost as though there’s some strange inverse law that dictates the smaller the available physical space for each individual, the greater the social gulf between them. Cities seem to have become a collection of people who mostly happen to live together for reasons of convenience rather than community; this is visible in the lack of any sort of pride or loyalty in its inhabitants; it’s every man and woman for themselves. Perhaps the internet is partially to blame; we no longer have to actually know our neighbours and live with them; if we don’t like the people who immediately surround us, there are plenty of online communities full of others who are closer in interest – hell, this site is one of them. [Read more...]

Photoessay: People and cars, Havana

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In the modern age, the car is a machine, a tool, something utilitarian. Features are added to meet regulations or to make you spend your money on something slightly better than what you had, or so Brand A can win a spec sheet comparison against Brand B. There’s very, very little soul; whatever little there is has to be engineered in. I don’t think this is the case with cars that are 50, 60, even 70+ years old; even if they had no soul to begin with, over the years they’ve certainly acquired patina, and with it, a history.

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