Photoessay: Observer and observed

IMG_8722b copyHunter and spotter – from the Hanoi Cinematic Masterclass

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

This series was shot with an iPhone 6 Plus and processed using the Monochrome Masterclass workflow. [Read more…]

On Assignment: the International Lutheran Seafarers’ Mission

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In the second half of 2014, I was hired for a rather unusual documentary assignment. Amongst very many other things, the German Lutheran Church runs an international mission for seafarers around the world, with various stations and representative pastors in major ports. For their 2014 annual report (yes, I know it’s 2015 – I just haven’t had a chance to write and post up til now), they decided to produce a story on this as one of their featured activities. Even more unusually, rather than choosing a major home port such as Hamburg, the story was focused on Asia – the port of Singapore, to be specific. It’s not too far from Kuala Lumpur, so I got on an airplane. The report has obviously now been published, and I’m free to post the write up.

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Photoessay: People of Venice

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A touch of longing

Today’s photoessay is perhaps best thought of a series of vignettes of the locals living in Venice – there may be one or two tourists that got caught in the mix, but I doubt most of them would buy raw meat at the butcher’s. There was a deliberate effort on my part to exclude people who were obviously tourists and focus on individuals; that wasn’t actually too difficult since it was a) winter and b) I was in many of the neighbourhoods that pretty much only saw residents. Those who attended my Venice Masterclass in November 2014 may recognise some of these images from the final day’s curation and processing session; in fact, you might even have been there at the time of capture… Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Ricoh GR, 21mm converter, 645Z and 55/2.8 SDM and processed with a mixture of PS workflow II and the ‘fine art’ style in Making Outstanding Images Ep.5: Processing For Style.

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Photoessay: Cinematic in Tokyo

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Not in Kansas anymore

One of the most important things for the creation of a cinematic feeling image is control over light: control light and you can control what stands out, the order in which your audience reads an image, and beyond that, how they feel when they view it. This is of course significantly easier to do when the light sources in question are not random: it’s much easier to make a cinematic image with ambient neon than it is with pure sunshine, as there’s just so much more directionality and variation of color. Fortunately, I had a decent amount of both in Tokyo; I’ve always found it to be one of the most easiest cities in which to make these kinds of images for that reason.

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Photoessay: Singapore color

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Singapore: a neatly organized life

Today’s photoessay has no theme beyond the observation of life as a flaneur in Singapore; in this case during in-between time from a teaching assignment a couple of months ago. You’ll notice this set of images is broken up into two distinct styles; the first series is more along the lines of what I do now – humans in environment; life in context; ‘people in sauce’. It is visually flatter, a little more structured, painterly, and perhaps almost aperspective in some ways. I like to think of the presentation as something akin to a more dynamic version of the traditional still life. The second set is unashamedly cinematic.

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Photoessay: May Day in Havana

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Against the crowd

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.

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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: Klang Valley MRT work in progress, part II

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We continue with the tunnel borers – this time reverting to monochrome for the aboveground portion of the monochrome documentary (underground was here here, focusing on the workers). A sense of scale is needed to appreciate the extent of the project, and this was the purpose of these images. I shot this with a mix of equipment over an extended period of time – mostly Nikon D800Es, however. Enjoy! MT

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Photoessay: Klang Valley MRT work in progress, part I

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Today’s photoessay follows on from the last On Assignment; it’s the aboveground portion to the earlier underground portion focusing on the workers. A sense of scale is needed to appreciate the extent of the project, and this was the purpose of these images.

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On Assignment: the TBM breakthrough

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Today’s post is about a job I did at the start of January – the world’s premier maker of tunnel-boring machines, Herrenknecht (there are actually quite a surprising number) hired me to document the operation and breakthrough of their first variable-density boring machine*, which happened to be at work underneath Kuala Lumpur as part of the greater Klang Valley subway/ mass transit project. Up til this point, we have a pretty pathetic train system and monorail that doesn’t cover more than 3-4km; we don’t have a unified public transport system which combine with poor traffic management creates legendary jams**.

*Kuala Lumpur has a mix of rock and clay underneath it; you need a special machine to bore through both simultaneously – the machines for rock are too slow with clay and it also clogs the outlet ducting, and the machines for clay simply won’t cut rock.

**In the past, it has taken me up to 2 hours to travel the 1.5km from home to office at the wrong time. If you’re wondering why I didn’t just walk, try doing that in 35 C heat, 80+% humidity and the business suits that you’re expected to wear – not that clothes mean you’re any more or less competent at doing an office job…

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