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.
For what feels like no more than a couple of days a year, the entire mood of London changes as the sun comes out and puts (most of) the population in a good mood – it’s as though the vitamin D has a tangible effect on the constitution. In fact, I’m pretty sure it does; there’s no question I feel better after a bit of sun, and not just because I’ve got interesting light to shoot with. There are still a decent number of overcast days, but at least they’re offset by intense sunshine and great shadows.
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.
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.
I honestly have no idea how many times I’ve posted images from KL. It might be 56 or 30 or 128. I don’t think it matters, anyway. I find quality of vision, and the ability to see, follows a bit of a camel hump: you need some time in a place in order to not be surprised and enraptured by every little thing that breaks your version of normality; a little objectivity and distance helps with quality. A bit more time, and you’re comfortable enough to explore, and have found things off the beaten path to the casual visitor; too much time and you’re jaded. The bigger the city, the longer this takes; but for a relatively small metropolis like the one I live in, that’s not very long at all.
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.
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.
I’ve unquestionably been heavily influenced by Saul Leiter of late, and more specifically his treatment of color and use of foregrounds/ reflections to create abstraction. Combine that with my normal cinematic approach to color and the somewhat more ‘controlled’ shooting mindset that working with the Otus forces results in a rather interesting set of images. Even if not all of them were shot with the Otus – I used the GR for the balance – the way I’m shooting remains the same. My ongoing studies of the abstraction of man take a step back: here, I think I needed stronger human subjects to make the compositions work. Enjoy! MT
This is part two of this mini-series. It’s simply impossible to go to Tokyo and not do any street photography; between the overall camera-friendliness of the people, the unusualness of the settings and the quality of light…