‘Project’-type photography – images shot to a theme as an exercise or assignment or with a view to an eventual exhibition – is generally a good way to motivate you to shoot if you’re stuck for inspiration. It narrows down the entire universe of possible subjects to just a few, or one. Or a single style. That restriction prevents the mental anguish of overload: either too many things to shoot, or nothing that really stands out in a visual barrage. If you’ve extensively shot the place you live in, it’s probably the former; the result is that you don’t land up photographing unless you take a trip or there’s an event – i.e. something out of the ordinary. The latter is what happens during that trip: perhaps there’s no inspiration, or there are just too many possible subjects, which result in a photographer losing focus and making a weak portfolio. Focus of effort is therefore generally a good idea. Believe it or not, this is actually the first intensely focused project of its sort I’ve attempted.
Personally, I usually suffer from the latter: if anything, there’s too much visual material once the ‘photographer mode’ switch is thrown. I moderate this with a very rigorous curation process; there’s a lot left on the cutting floor because I’d rather have the image, or an attempt at the image, than not have tried it and regret it later. My biggest fear when shooting is that I might miss something – anything – which might later turn out to be a decisive moment. As such, I tend to shoot so much that I don’t require inspiration so much as focus.
The Verticality project is something that I’ve been working on intermittently for the past year or so. I never intended it to be thematic; I made an image or two that I particularly liked, and then having identified the key traits of these images, subsequently looked out for such opportunities in the course of my other photography:
- An entirely man-made architectural subject, with heavy emphasis on geometry and form;
- An abstraction of scale through the removal of general visual cues such as people or natural objects (other than clouds);
- A perspective from ground level looking up;
- Flat but directional light to give the images a draughtsman’s quality;
- A tonally balanced black and white style to remove the emotional cues of color and introduce a cold, rationalistic monolithic-ness;
- A sense of ‘balanced imbalance’ – a strong lateral balance in the structure in the image, with a dynamic sense of vertical progression brought on by both geometric convergence of perspective and decreasing frequency structure of detail;
- A square presentation – originally an artefact of shooting the first few images with a Hasselblad, but now a conscious compositional choice because I feel that the square helps with balance;
- High technical image quality and pan-focal depth of field, suitable for Ultraprinting or large format display.
The results have now grown to the point that I feel they merit a post on their own; this will of course be an ongoing project. I haven’t decided what the final conclusion will be – if there is one – but if there’s enough interest, I’ll offer this as a limited series of Ultraprints at some point in the future. One of the things I like about this series is that it’s very equipment independent – the images leave no visual cues about the cameras used: they are entirely about conveying my idea, and I intend to leave it that way. Interestingly, I tried curating my back catalog to find images that fit; there were almost none. This isn’t surprising given the very specific set of visual objectives I had. One thing I do need to do is keep better track of the sequence names…you’ll find that the captions may not necessarily match the working file names.
Personally, I’m quite pleased with the results; enough so that I’ve started another project called <em>Portal</em> – I’ll probably be showing the fruits of this one in another six months. Enjoy! MT
A few places left for Making Outstanding Images Chicago (September 2014), Masterclass San Francisco (September 2014). Masterclass Venice (November 2014) now open for booking – click here to book or for more info
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