Wet departure, Hong Kong
Bad weather is usually the bane of any available light/ documentary photographer – in this case, just the right amount of bad came together for a much stronger sense of atmosphere than if on a sunny day (that bit of atmosphere between subject and distant background helps, too)
I thought I’d try a little exercise to round off the year: aside from the usual introspective new year’s resolutions, I felt that a retrospective curation of work done the previous year might prove to be interesting from both an analytical standpoint and a higher level view of where I’m headed creatively. However, as with every curation exercise – there was a serious struggle to get it down to a manageable number, topped of by questions around emotional bias, wildly different subjects, and some images having significantly more sitting time than others (e.g. January vs December captures). I shot close to 50,000 frames in total, which is significantly less than in previous years, but tempered by the fact that a lot of that was controlled, deliberate single-shot capture off a tripod (‘conventional’ medium format style). Overall productivity remains the same, I think.
My usual hit rate (for images I consider portfolio grade) is averages about 1:20 after the medium format switch (more like 1:70-1:100 previously). For this exercise, I aimed for 50 images in total – a 1000:1 curation, and managed to get it down to 32, which I’ll present in two parts. To at least make the task somewhat easier, I set myself specific curation criteria, in roughly this order:
- The image must rate a ‘5’, at least to my eyes. This means that beyond the normal Four Things, there has to be something unique, temporal, serendipitous or unexpected about it.
- The story (or idea) must be strong.
- It must be aesthetically pleasing – again, this is highly subjective, but curated to my personal tastes (feel free to disagree)
- Technical qualities must be as good as possible given the capture circumstances and camera used, which means critically sharp pixels and preservation of at least one if not both dimensions. Note how this is in position 4: technical quality comes last on this list, but there’s no reason to compromise if you don’t have to.
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of images in this set were shot with the H5D-50c, because that was my workhorse this year; by the numbers, I’ve got quite a spread though: E-M1.2 (1); 501CM/CFV-50c (1); H5D-50c (23); H6D-50c (3); Sony A7RII (1); iPhone 6+ (1); Leica Q (1); D810 (1). The only absentee camera I used but had no representation was the Canon 100D, which was mostly for family grabs (and unsurprisingly, these aren’t really that interesting).
Finally, advance apologies to the dissenters: they’re getting titles, and a few lines of explanation or thoughts as to why the images ‘stick’ for me. Secondly, this may be a good exercise to try yourself if you’ve got some time over a few days; don’t try to do it all at once, because it’s too easy to hit saturation after a few hours and a few thousand images. Some sitting time is also required to review the final curation, too. If there’s one thing I take away personally from the exercise, it’s that my style has become even more precise and controlled than last year, with more use of color and fully exploiting the extended dynamic range from the larger sensors. Despite a lot of experiments in a more layered, Saul-Leiter-esque style, none of those images (hundreds, actually) made the final curation – I just didn’t like them enough; perhaps the message isn’t quite as strong or the overall coherence not quite as mature.
Time for some images!
There are so many emotions and interpretations that go with this image for me – a child reaching out to a parent; reaching out to explore; trying to escape; or perhaps it’s a metaphor for ourselves trying to make sense of a world that’s never really fully possible.
The elegant flow of shadows, the focus and intensity, the curl of sparks – I find this evocative of both the art deco era and a kind of grandeur past. That, the curved structure, and the way force seems to be projected from the anonymous worker supports my underlying desire to create an appreciation for the people who make the world we take for granted.
This image was actually shot out of the studio window immediately after the Bodyline series – I have no title for it, but included it not just because it appeals to me at an aesthetic level, but because it represents the dichotomy in my photography: I can plan and light and control everything, but I much prefer to observe, see, distil and react spontaneously – there were no other people with coloured umbrellas after that one, and the rain was too heavy before (and things quickly dried out afterwards).
A metaphor for life, really: we battle to preserve order and beauty, but must always keep the dirt at bay – and the green monsters top-right can be merely observing, jealously trolling, waiting to pounce or simply our misinterpretation of the natural course of things – or all of the above.
Illusions of popularity
This is the hot party you weren’t invited to: we don’t know what’s happening inside the wall, but it looks rather inviting from outside especially when compared to the surroundings. Yet things are not quite perfect, either: look closely at the string of lights.
The wall III
If you look very closely at the full size image or a print, you’ll still find irrepressible signs of personality in all of that faceless corporate anonymity: there’s still hope.
Head in the clouds
A surrealist moment: who do the legs belong to? What does the body language suggest? Is there a hint or clue to the thoughts (head) just barely visible, and the direction and objects faced?
I can only come to the inescapable conclusion that I have a thing for welding – it must be the intensely directional and colored light of the arc torches, or the stark resulting textures in everything else. Construction should be thoughtful work: decisions made here tend to last much longer than anywhere else.
This building’s podium level reminded me of nothing so much as a reinterpretation of a classical Greek temple, but heavily reduced and minimised. What you can’t see – deliberately – is that the area has bene repurposed to the worship of leisure in the form of entertainment areas and swimming pools, instead of the pursuit of knowledge and faith – I suppose it’s a good analogy to the state of society today, too.
The most remarkable thing about this image is the colours are as accurate as I could make them to the original scene. If anything, I had to tone things down a little. Places like this do exist…
There’s something richly textured, relaxed yet slightly tense and inviting about the figure here – with pose mirrored by the tap. The shadows suggest more than the highlights reveal and leave the rest to the imagination. Shot impromptu at the end of the Bodyline series.
Ultraprints from this series are available on request here
Visit the Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including workshop and Photoshop Workflow videos and the customized Email School of Photography. You can also support the site by purchasing from B&H and Amazon – thanks!
Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved