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Summer is a good time for architectural photoigraphy. From a photographic standpoint, colors of course become more intense, but the contrast is also helpful for monochrome photography, and with the right filters (film or digital), extra punch and contrast can be given to skies. Given London’s relatively high latitude, even during the height of summer the sun doesn’t go perpendicularly overhead as it does in the tropics – which means not being quite so restricted about shooting during noon.
The face of London has changed so much in the last few years since my previous visit – 2010 – that frankly there are parts of the Square Mile I no longer recognise. (Never mind the fact that it’s also spread northwards towards the Barbican.) I have to admit that driving through it was an extremely strange feeling – as though an American, or perhaps Japanese (due to irregular street layouts) city had been plonked there with towering edifices of steel and glass. As you all know, I like photographing these things, so a return trip had to be scheduled.
Today’s post is the conclusion of part one. The abstraction of man in monochrome continues; my own peculiar brand of anthropological observation/ documentary/ street photography. Call it what you will. Perhaps as a consequence of the medium (format), I feel these images are somewhat more structured, ordered and ‘rigid’ than the previous set; that said, I’ve never felt London to be a particularly liberal place – especially the City or any of its other institutions – so perhaps this is actually somewhat appropriate.
The first part of my street photography from London shows life at my favourite 28mm documentary perspective – one I find natural, long enough to be intimate without being too intrusive, but wide enough to take the context of one’s peripheral vision without overly drawing attention to the geometric distortion that happens with even wider lenses. Despite having flirtations with the longer perspective I also carry – in the past 85mm, and now down to 55 or even 40/43mm for medium format – I’ve seldom gone wider than 28mm, just because it’s so instinctive. Or perhaps it’s a product of having spent a year shooting little else, back in 2009.
The idea of a photograph looking like a painting isn’t a ridiculous one. In fact, I personally find it quite appealing, and a very good solution for the times when you don’t have strong enough light to make something more dynamic. It’s certainly a style I’ve been exploring increasingly – beginning consciously with Havana – but what exactly makes a photograph ‘painterly’?
Many years ago, I lived in London. I’m always told that it’s most people’s aspiration to go there, but to be honest, it’s a place to visit, not one to live – much the same way I see Tokyo. What’s always struck me about it is despite having somewhere around 12 million inhabitants and what often feels like the most densely packed streets and transport systems on earth, you almost always feel alone. In the five years I spent there, I can count the number of random conversations with strangers I’ve had on less than the fingers of one hand – which is to say, far less than any other city I’ve lived in. People just seem to be not so approachable and lost in their own worlds; much like Tokyo, it seems that the less space you have, the more fiercely protective of that space each individual becomes.
And now for something a bit different, both from an experiential standpoint and a content one. As part of the Havana Masterclass,
I arranged a massive demonstration of communism to create a realistic photojournalistic scenario we attended the 1st of May parade at Plaza de la Revolucion, Havana – perhaps the biggest socialist event in the entire Cuban calendar. Rather than being observers of the parade, as I’d expected, we got sucked into the enormous number of participants – I would say easily in the hundreds of thousands, covering the entire length and width of Plaza de la Revolucion and beyond. And as you are no doubt aware, the best images are made when you’re not just watching it, but actually in it.
I originally wanted to call this article ‘is anything truly original?’ – however, I think that’s the concluding question I’d like to leave the reader with rather than the opening one. There has been a lot of debate recently – both in the comments here, offline amongst my usual correspondents and in various places on the internet about why a) photography is perhaps not perceived as ‘highly valued’ as other art forms; b) obviously derivative works and the creative value – or lack of – contained therein; and the greater question of whether c) the medium as a legitimate creative art form rather than merely a recording/ documentary one. Perhaps the biggest question is in the title: ‘but is it art?’
I’ve put together this set as a sort of compilation of singles that worked at the time, but perhaps needed company to work as a photoessay; the problem is, it’s not exactly the kind of thing you can go out and look to shoot specifically: it either happens, or it doesn’t. It’s taken me some time to accumulate a decent number of images to present as a series here. I like to think of them as little slices of life, with both a bit of whimsy and perhaps something to make you think; beyond that, there also has to be something aesthetically pleasing about them – a sense of balanced tranquility, if you will. Enjoy! MT
Shot with various cameras over the last year and a half, including some I was merely testing and others I no longer own.