Everybody has a dream. More realistically, everybody who picks up a camera has some idea – conscious or not – of what they want to get out of it: be it a simple record of an event, or delusions of artistic grandeur. More often than not, there’s a truly enormous gap between where the photographer wants to be, and where they think they are. There yet another gap between where they think they are and where they actually are. For most, the levels tend to shake out with aspiration coming first, followed by self-perception, and then finally, reality. As with most things photographic, there’s just as much psychology involved as technicality.
I can’t really say these have a common theme other than reporting on life in the city; however, subjects, light and various urban geometry cooperated at times to make some images I was rather fond of. Enjoy! MT
Ostensibly, this is already perhaps not the most practical of ideas; if one is extremely masochistic, things can be compounded further into the really bad idea class by using film. And a manual focus camera. Without a meter. I think it takes a certain amount of insanity – or at least a healthy dose of optimism – to even attempt it. Street photography (the genre itself being discussed in this previous article) is the kind of thing that’s handled best with a responsive, unobtrusive camera that also has a goodly amount of depth of field for a given aperture, plus what I like to think of as being very forgiving of slightly loose shot discipline. This generally means good high-ISO ability, perhaps a stabilization system, a low-vibration shutter and decently large pixels to make the effects of camera shake less obvious.
Over the last couple of posts, we’ve looked at the qualities of bokeh, and some examples of cinematic photography in New York; although one of the most obvious hallmarks of the cinematic style is an abundance of very out of focus zones, in reality there’s a lot more subtlety to it. Since this is one of my most frequently used and well-developed styles, I felt that perhaps a little intellectual exercise was in order.
I found the people and streets of New York to be eminently suited to a bit of cinematic street photography. Perhaps it’s the fact that so many movies have already been filmed in New York, or it’s the quality of light filtering between and reflecting off buildings, or it’s the various diverse characters that live in the city. These are little moments, vignettes and slices-of-life; I don’t want to use the word ‘stolen’, but it does sometimes feel like one is peering into a pre-coreographed scene and simply borrowing a frame. I sincerely apologise in advance for having some fun with the captions.
This article is one of my first from the archives, brought up, dusted off and refreshed with new images in preparation for the next mini-series on cinematic photography: let’s just say that bokeh matters, and having a little pre-prep can’t hurt. Plus, things tend to get buried in the depths of time and forgotten…
Bokeh. Possibly one of the most misunderstood, yet most bandied-about terms in the world of photography today – right up there with dynamic range, resolution, A-is-noisier-than-B and other such myths.
The term is a derivative of the Japanese word boke, which doesn’t really have a good translation into English. I believe Mike Johnston was the one who coined/ Anglicised it, though there may be earlier derivations. The closest we can get is ‘the nature/ character of blur’. It’s certainly not quantitative in any way – what constitutes good bokeh and what is bad or ugly bokeh is very much up to the viewer. There are some who like ‘busy’ bokeh where out of focus areas take on double images, swirls or other patterns; some like the pentagons and other shapes on highlights. Yet others prefer a uniform wall of gaussian blur foreground-background.
During the day, you sometimes come across one or two of these food carts hiding dormant and parked in an alleyway, shuttered up and slumbering. Lights off, boarded up, you have no real idea as to their purpose. However, as night falls, Fukuoka’s traditional food carts start to emerge from their various hiding places, spread their wings, awnings, seats, sidewalk tables, makeshift walls/ partitions, lights, signs (in effect being a complete portable mini-restaurant around a counter-cum-kitchen) and cooking paraphanelia, and more attractively, their fragrant smells. Most of them congregate by the river under some trees in a stretch that’s bounded by Hakata Canal City on one side, and the seedier red light district on the other. I suppose they cater to the shoppers before they go home, and the punters before they go out.
Continued from part one.
Even though these articles might have differing substance to the images, it’s the images that people are drawn to because they contain information that comes in a much more easily digestible form than words; you can look at an image for a few seconds to understand what’s going on, but you can’t do the same with a two-thousand word article. Our brains are just hardwired that way; predators in the jungle didn’t write essays about why they were dangerous; they just looked scary. This dissonance itself is quite dangerous: an increasingly frequent trend I’ve noticed recently is that the pictures don’t always match the words; whether this is laziness on the part of the editor or lack of choice remains unclear; but there’s definitely a growing disparity betweens what the words say, and what the images say – or at least the impression they give. Logically, one would think that the overall message should be consistent: if you’re going for a particular angle, then the images should support the story; if no suitable images can be found, then the angle and story should be altered slightly so that at least the complete article is self-consistent.
I bet many of you saw the opening image in part one and wondered how on earth it related to the title; it’s an example of the dissonance. I’m even more certain that in a few months, one of three things will happen:
1. You’ll remember the article because of the example dissonance between images and words;
2. You’ll remember the pretty bokeh and forget the article;
3. You’ll remember neither.
It’s impossible to go anywhere in Japan without happening across a temple or two. They provide both places of worship for the faithful and serene oases for the rest of us. They’re always impeccably maintained and a great show of craftsmanship; naturally lending themselves to photography. I spent half a day during my last trip to Fukuoka visiting some of the temples in the Gion district, and engaging in some slow, meditative photography with the Hasselblad. These images were shot primarily with the 80/2.8 CF on Ilford Delta 100 and scanned with the D800E. Enjoy! MT
Some weeks ago, I was exchanging emails with a reader from New Zealand; he threw out an interesting thought which has stuck with me since and definitely bears further examination (and I paraphrase to retain context): Where does the work of a photographer begin and end? Have we partially taken over the job of philosophers to interpret the world?
What is a city without its people? What if a person from several thousand years ago were simply transported into the present day and dropped in any moderately-sized metropolis without any explanation – especially on a Sunday, when only a few brave souls are to be seen wandering the streets, purposefully running the gauntlet or perhaps acting as keepers of the strange world? Nature appears to have taken over in places, though the square rocks remain. Even the animals mostly avoid the place. Strange movable objects line every path. Did something bad happen here? Would they view the cities as strange landscapes? Or recognize them as artificial constructs? Perhaps they would wonder why anybody would leave nature to be all squashed together in square rectangular blocks…or maybe they wouldn’t even view the blocks as fit for human dwelling. To question, to wonder, to dream, to adapt, and go forth out to explore out of curiosity even if it makes us feel a little bit scared. That is what makes us human.
Or, perhaps, I just scared the Fukuokans off with the mighty clap of my Hasselblad mirror MT
There have been a couple of recent developments in our industry that have been receiving a lot of heat lately – firstly, Adobe’s move to put Photoshop CS on subscription only, and secondly, the recently signed (25 April) British Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 – or specifically, one portion of it dealing with copyright and orphaned works. I’ve had some time to chew over both of these issues and how they affect the average photographer – both the amateur and the professional. I’m afraid the overall prognosis isn’t good, but it also isn’t as bad as a lot of people are making it out to be.
Perhaps the most famous landmark in Burma, Shwedagon Pagoda has been a focal point for life in Yangon for a very long time – it has reputedly existed in some form or other for the last 2,600 years. It reached its current height of approximately 114m in the late 1700s after the most recent rebuilding as a result of multiple earthquakes. It is thought of as the most sacred location for Buddhists in Burma, with the relics of multiple past Buddhas housed within: the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Koṇāgamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa and eight strands of hair from Gautama – the one traditionally thought of as Buddha. An exact replica exists in Naypyidaw (the new capital of Burma).
Advance warning: I’m going to butcher Hamlet here, or as close as I can to it. Modern English isn’t really suited to the meter, nor is technical photographic jargon. I’ve done my best.
MT: To carry, or not to carry – that is the question:
Whether ’tis more sensible to pack your camera
At only when the time and mood suits
Or to always be loaded for bear
And in preparation, bag the shot. To hear the shutter
The flow of pixels, the fizzing chemistry of halide
Whatever your medium. Tis a satisfaction
Confirmed by the rush of hits. To travel unburdened
With no magic box: ay, light of shoulder you be,
For who knows what frames yet unseen may lie ahead
The imagined torture of being able to see but
Unable to capture gives the photographer pause.
There’s the problem with going without.
For who would bear the unfortunate light,
The tripods and accessories, the TSA-man’s probe
The aching shoulders, the impatient spouse,
The ‘NO FOTO!’ shouted, and the frustration of
Lugging the gear without it seeing use,
When he might delude himself into making do
With just an iPhone? Whom but the most hardcore
Would insist on two bodies and four lenses?
But that dread of missing the shot,
The heavenly light, which transforms the
Mundane into the magical, frustrates the hell,
And makes us bring the f1.4s, and a flash
Just in case, rather than wing it and go blind.
Thus the anxious photocondriac in us all
At the least burdens pockets, usually bags,
Empties our purses upgrading, enforces visiting
Of the chiro and desire for just one more stop.
With this, I break down and hit order
Hoping this is The One. To the ‘Bay the others go.
O Hyperion, give me contrast but hold the range
My sensor is now but one-inch.
Though visiting Chinatown in the USA is somewhat ironic for a person from Asia (we do have Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur too; it’s just not that different from the rest of town); I did find it to be quite photographically rich – especially with San Francisco’s inclined streets. Between the Cantonese and interesting side alleys, it felt a lot more like Hong Kong than anywhere else – which is perhaps a consequence of the origin of the immigrants. More than that though, something about the atmosphere was rather conducive to the cinematic style, though it could also be because both times I arrived at the end of the day as the sun was setting and pouring down the east-west streets in a gloriously saturated manner. I sent my workshop students off to explore style with a few different assignments, mounted the Leica 50/1.4 Summilux-M ASPH on my OM-D via an adaptor and set off to grab a few frames from a movie.