Photoessay: Melbourne monochromes, part II

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The continuation and completion of the previous photoessay.

It occurs to me I never addressed why these images were presented as monochrome rather than color – Australia has wonderfully intense blue skies (I suspect this has something to do with the ozone layer, or lack of it at those latitudes) which in turn produce extremely intense colours. Personally, and I suspect also for a lot of other people, monochrome images are associated with a sort of timeless quality; I don’t – and didn’t – want the impressions to be affected by my current color choices and preferences. It’s one of the reasons we associate certain color palettes with certain eras in history – think of the 1960s and 1970s, or late 1980s, for instance; unfortunately I suspect the current period is going to be defined by over filtering, low-fi and HDR. The least I can do is spare my subjects from that…

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Some of you may have noticed my continued exploration of the idea of isolation: my subjects are mostly alone and not interacting with anybody else. This is intentional: no man may be an island, and we are all members of society, and beyond that actively choose to live in urban agglomerations of millions of other people, but at the same time we choose to seek solitude and private space: isn’t that a contradiction of sorts?

This series was shot with a Ricoh GR. Enjoy! MT

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  1. Beautiful series. Always love your B&W work.

  2. Sid - The Wanderer says:

    Excellent shots…city comes alive in black and white through your shots…

  3. Thank you for these posts, Ming. I love Melbourne and photographing it on my visits (I live in Canberra) is one of my favourite things in life. Your photos capture the essence of the city beautifully.

  4. I just love these, Ming. Miss the monochromes! That GR is quite a little package. 🙂

  5. Martin Fritter says:

    Your discussion of color and b&w in this context has set me thinking. Prior to the digital revolution, color photography was less subject to manipulation that was black and white. The developing and printing techniques so common in b&w just didn’t apply to transparencies. Just consider how limited the dynamic range of reversal film is. Color negative is somewhat less constrained, but not like b&w. Digital workflow changes all this. Thus digital color doesn’t have the historical precedents that b&w does. Given its relative youth (in historical terms) it’s not surprising that digital color is in a confused state.

    Film photographers face certain problems too, mainly the disappearance of choice. For someone of my age, color means Technicolor and Kodachrome. Even the professional level C41’s just don’t seem quite right. The Velvias seem too saturated.

    Ming, do you have any current color work you especially like?

    • Yes and no – the ‘style’ of color was almost always dictated by the film emulsion. The difficulty in manipulating it beyond simple push-pull post-developing is that you will affect the different color channels in a nonlinear way, which will land up looking unnatural.

      Current color? I can’t say I’m dissatisfied with the color images I post here…but that’s obviously biased. Vincent Laforet’s color work is pretty good, though.

  6. I enjoyed your photos Ming. I would like to know if it’s just my observation or others too, but I find Australians, or at least the people you photographed in Melbourne to be very sullen. I come from Adelaide, not too far from Melbourne, and I always perceive this feeling. I always feel a greater sense of energy and life while in Japan and while looking at your photographs from home.
    I wonder if this is an awareness for a camera nearby?

  7. Chia C N says:

    Thank you Ming for this wonderful set of B&W from the GR. I have been a Ricoh user for some time and felt the Ricoh magic is in B&W be it on the GXR 28mm module or the M mount module. Your pictures certainly affirms that and once again tempt be to at a GR.
    Have a nice day.

  8. I’m not one of the city-of-millions types; in fact I’d take up residence in a rural location any day of the week. As far as solitude goes I would say “mankind,” (regardless of individual urban/rural preferences) generally has need as a matter of health to mix of social relationship and quieter times to rest and reflect…

    I experienced your color images from Melbourne as beautiful and I enjoyed this set of monochromes very much, too. The tones of #1 (Domain Interchange) and #3 (down stairs, _G005803 copy) were to me especially striking.

    Special sauce in the GR not in the A? Sigh….

    • Thanks Thomas. Sadly yes…special sauce in the GR. The A’s special sauce is color – that has amongst the most pleasing color of any camera I’ve used, period. Depends on what you prefer to shoot, I suppose.

      • I’m writing in jest but I suppose as a solution one could use two holsters; maybe with the GR at the right hand and A at the left.

        Thank you again for sharing these images: as usual they’re simultaneously a pleasure to view and an inspiration to shoot.

        • Actually, one of the reasons I went with the GR is there was no equivalent holster for the A…those things are seriously very, very handy.

  9. Very nice work Ming. These may take a bit more time to sink in than the previous set, from an aesthetic POV — it’s quite a bit more subtle.

    BTW, how do you deal with the GW-3 lens on the GR? It seems rather fiddly to put on and take off, and the camera no longer fits in the holster with the lens on. I have to treat it as a fixed-lens 21mm-equivalent camera because of how inconvenient it is to change. That hood is also a pain to deal with unless you just forgo the lens cap entirely.

    • Thank you. If I’m using the GW3 I just leave it on and in my bag or pocket instead of pouch; the hood is annoying and I’m using a Nikon snap on cap instead. I think of it as being smaller and less hassle than a separate 21mm lens for the D800E…

    • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

      As a GR owner, I think that Ricoh , beside its excellent interface, has missed on few practical details. One of them is the way to attach GW-3. To screw it on and off is very uproff. They should add a bayonet similar to filter holders shade. And GW-3 should have a contact
      communicating with body..

      • I agree. Right now, I leave the GH-3 tube attached to the GW-3 lens, and use the tube’s bayonet mount, which is also helpful since it will protect the rear element a bit. But I’ve trained myself to make sure the GW-3 hasn’t unscrewed itself, too.

        I’ve already forgotten to reset the wide lens setting once already — I assume it will mess up the auto lens correction stuff on ACR/LR.

      • Treat the extension tube and GW-3 as one unit. That *does* bayonet on and off. Why would you need the contact communicating with the body? As far as I can tell, that ‘wide converter’ setting does nothing other than alter the EXIF data.

        • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

          Ming, I didn`t know that one about apparently doing nothing to picture except data in EXIF.
          Do you mean that GW-3 doesn`t show linear distortion and vignetting in JPGs, usually corrected by software in most cases.

          • I wouldn’t know because I don’t shoot JPEG with any camera except the iPhone. The DNGs with GW-3 of course show some degradation – mostly a bit of CA and loss of resolution in the corners, but not more than you’d expect from sticking more lenses on the front of something…

  10. JohnAmes says:

    It may be just me but I feel that I have seen quite a lot of your B & W photographs taken with your GR. Does that little powerhouse somehow lend itself to monochrome images?

    • Yes it does – whatever Ricoh have done with the AD conversion seems to make for very easy and tonally pleasing monochromes, providing you metered the subject properly. I think there must be some special sauce in there as I haven’t seen it from any other cameras with the same sensor – the Coolpix A, for example. That said, this set was entirely shot with the GR, so that might have something to do with it. Beyond that, I find it much stealthier for street work than something larger, which is usually carrying the longer lens anyway – other reasons why it gets so much use.

  11. Loved the monochrome and the theme of solitude – well captured!

  12. These images are very well composed and look so much more expressive in B&W. Personally
    The debate about what does and what does not constitute street for me at least; is
    down to individual preference.
    Suffice it to say your images make an impact and have a style about them. I really enjoyed
    seeing them today. Thank you

  13. I like the “people in environment” description for both parts of your Melbourne series. It fits much better than “street photography”, a term that seems to invoke a lot of discussion/debate depending on who is doing to defining. My personal feeling about it is similar to US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”


    • I think that remains one of the joys of photography in general: it’s pleasingly impossible to define by nature and remains very open to interpretation. The variety in the way people see the world keeps the output interesting.

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