In an ideal world, the art of seeing and composition should be independent of one’s surroundings, subjects or location. Or at very least, one should attempt it. Even though it’s almost always easier for us to previsualize compositions when we are in an unfamiliar or new environment – that which is different always stands out the most – it’s good practice to see what can be found closer to home. I like to give myself this challenge on a fairly regular basis to keep things fresh; after all, if you can find a new and compelling image in a very familiar situation, it’s all the more likely you’ll be able to make one when you’re on assignment or travelling.
The media, commercial entities – camera companies, software companies, cellphone companies – are all trying to convince us that anybody can take great pictures, and is therefore a photographer. Right and wrong, I think. Being a photographer is far more than equipment, more than luck, more than intuition, more than practice…it’s an attitude.
The final article in this series on printing leaves behind the technique and even the images to consider a far deeper philosophical consideration: art vs. the process vs. the result. To make a successful image, there are three primary considerations: the idea, the execution, and the display medium. Most photographers struggle to manage more than one of these – there are a lot of people who are very good at shooting brick walls and test charts and can remember ever single custom function of their cameras, but cannot compose at all. Similarly, there are a lot of people who point and shoot with their phones but are quite gifted compositionally; yet they are frustrated by their inability to capture what they imagine. And both groups almost never think about how the finished work is to be presented and viewed.
Today’s photoessay is a very special one for me: firstly because I’ve always wanted to photograph in Japan in the Autumn because of the extremely vivid colours and semi-perfected nature*; secondly, because photographing them was a very meditative and pleasant experience for me. I’ve actually never had the chance to shoot unhindered, unhurried, and unencumbered in this way before; I had the luxury of sitting, looking and just feeling the scene and the light before photographing; sometimes for hours. As a result, I was in a very different – not to be cliched, but ‘zen’ is a pretty apt description here – state of mind when creating these; as a result, they’re quite different to my usual work. In addition, the first six images in this set will go into the first ever ultra print run – to be announced in the next day or so. You’ll be able to experience these images in a way that puts you in the scene, with detail that’s immersive and colour that’s both transparent and saturated. All of these images were shot under ideal conditions, too – medium format digital back, great lenses at optimum apertures, base ISO on a tripod – which means image quality is really about as good as it gets. In all honesty, an 800-pixel jpeg doesn’t even come close – but such are the limits of the internet. I really don’t have anything else to add other than please enjoy! MT
*All of these images were shot in gardens and parks around Tokyo – the Rikyugien Garden, the Nezu Museum Garden, and the Edo Open-Air Architectural Museum. You may recognise some of them from the How To See Ep.2: Tokyo video – I discuss their creation and composition in significantly more detail there.
Let’s again start with the simple question of ‘how many of you print’? For those that do, inevitably, your development is going to look something like this:
- Make your first print – marvel at how different it looks to the screen version
- Make larger prints, start to note that the detail still holds and in fact you’ve got much more resolution than you actually need even for the largest prints you’re willing to pay for/ have space to hang
- Pause for a moment and then decide to try making your own prints because it’s cheaper and more convenient
- Buy a home photo inkjet, find that it takes half a dozen tries to get one good print, add up the costs and find that ink and paper will bankrupt you in short order; worse still, lab results are still better
- Stop printing for a while
- Go back to using the lab because your print heads have clogged and the ink has dried up, and it would be cheaper to buy a new printer than replace the cartridges and heads and you really don’t want to go down that route again…
- Find a better lab – assuming you’re not happy with what you’re getting
- Start to wonder what you’re going to do with all of these 24×36” prints; you have rolled up tubes and prints all over your house
- Abandon printing or start selling your prints so you can make more prints
- Start wondering what’s next?
It’s been a little while since I posted any images from Kuala Lumpur; the truth is that I don’t actually shoot that much in my home city these days. Partially it’s because I feel I’ve really plumbed the depths of most parts of the city; partially it’s because I try to keep some potential in reserve for when I have to go out and review a camera – finding new material in a city in which you’ve shot close to 200,000 frames is actually quite tough.
And now for something a little different – what if I took the abstraction of man to the next logical step? The idea of a person, not the specific individual? What interests me is the way man interacts with his environment, leaves his mark, but is ultimately temporal; more so in modern society where the multitudes of us land up mostly being nameless, faceless and somewhat commoditized. What does generic man look like in native habitat? I’m sure it’s soulless, clinical and a little cold, but hey, I can’t help it if that’s the way I see the world sometimes.
I have a theory as to why we as a species seem to be universally attracted to things like clouds, fireworks, water, trees and flowers; that will be the subject of a much longer philosophical elucidation soon, but in the meantime, consider what all of these objects have in common. For today, just enjoy the clouds and their endless variety.
The one thing that stuck with me was the very small number of cars – and of the cars you did see, most were quite ancient…I guess it must have something to do with the Dutch taxes. At any rate, there was certainly enough variety to keep things photographically interesting, even if the weather wasn’t that fantastic. It’s certainly hard not to feel that it’s both a very eco-friendly and healthy city… MT
Shot with a mixture of cameras – Hasselblad 501C with 80/2.8 on Fuji Acros; OM-D E-M5 and 14-42 X pancake; Ricoh GR.
These images were made during the October 2013 Making Outstanding Images Workshop in Amsterdam; I will be holding three more of these in Melbourne, Sydney and London later this year. Click here for more info, and to sign up.
There’s always been a slightly inaccurate preconception in any field that a specialist must be better than a generalist – surely, if you’ve done something a thousand times, you’d be better at it than somebody who’s done it ten times? Today, from a photographic standpoint, I’m actually going to argue against this – albeit with a very specific set of caveats.