On Assignment: Ascencia

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A few months back, I was given another one of those very rare birds: a commission that has the holy trinity for a hired gun – an open creative brief, an interesting subject, and most importantly, a great client. This combination is far much rarer than you might think; most of the time you’re lucky if you get one of three, and the industry is not such that one can afford to be choosy (even though this may prove to be a bad idea in the long run*.) It’s a pleasure to work with another creative person: they understand and respect your expertise, and just let you go about it. We know that we won’t hire a creative if the point of view differ and you don’t agree with their work: this does not mean bad, just different priorities. In any case: interesting building, great client, and fortunately – a very small inter-monsoon window in which to make this work.

*There’s always a risk that a client feels like they’re overpaying, you feel like you’re undercharging, you’re asked for a carbon copy of something else that doesn’t work the intended subject, and in the end nobody is happy – the client because they didn’t get what they want (duh, different subject) and you because it was nether creatively nor financially satisfying. The temptation in the current market is to say yes to everything, but I can honestly say that this may do more harm than good in the long run since everybody likes to talk…

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Photoessay: Thaipusam 2017 cinematics, part II

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This is the peak of the event: handover of the offerings at the temple inside the cave (and at the top of 272 steps); the exit of trance and seeking of blessings by both participants and visitors. There are just as many exhausted devotees as ones dancing in religious fervour. I’ve always been careful to be highly respectful and not intrusive when photographing the ceremonies; we are privileged to be allowed to observe (and in a way, participate) in what is a very sensitive and private ceremony. Every year I’ve attended, I’ve been called over by one of the participants in trance to receive blessings in turn – and in a way, it feels as though I’ve been given permission to be there. I guess I’ll be going back again next year. MT

Additional coverage and full size sample images are here at Hasselblad.com The video is here.

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H6D-100c, 50 and 100mm lenses, and post processed with the cinematic workflow in Making Outstanding Images Ep. 4 & 5.

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Fortitude: resolved, a film (or: Thaipusam 2017 with the H6D-100c)

Fortitude: resolved from Ming Thein on Vimeo.

Note: the video was shot in 4K, and will play at 4K if you click through to Vimeo, or use the full screen player and pick the appropriate setting.

Every year, a huge number of Hindu devotees gather at the Batu Cave temple outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the Thaipusam festival. It celebrates a significant event in the life and mythology of Lord Murugan: the gifting of a weapon to defeat evil. Participants burden themselves with offerings to Lord Murugan in various forms – from milk pots to portable Kavadi shrines and other offerings piercing their body. It is believed that the more significant the offering and the higher the personal suffering, the more blessings are accorded to the devotee in their struggle against their own personal challenges.

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On Assignment: High speed rail underground

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I recently was commissioned to produce a status update of sorts and small vignettes of documentary covering work in progress for the construction of the HK-Guangzhou-Shenzhen high speed rail link. The vast majority of the Hong Kong portion of this lies underground, which makes sense given both the lack of space and need to have a terminus somewhere centrally downtown. Fortunately, Hong Kong’s underlying geology is very friendly to tunnelling – I’ve always had the impression a good chunk of the island and Kowloon peninsula is really hollowed out given the number of subways, tunnels, malls and utilities hidden underground.

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On Assignment: The face of construction

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Presenting something a little different from a recent assignment. Firstly, I know I’m not really known for portraiture, though I do quite a bit of it; I suppose it’s simply not something I’ve really publicised much. On this assignment, I had a few things to keep in play: firstly, finding the right faces amongst the workers; secondly, some of them being unwilling or uncomfortable to be photographed*. and thirdly, striking a good balance between a documentary in situ and something posed. Overriding all of this was the need for authenticity: no point in having a great looking portrait but one that doesn’t make sense either from the client’s standpoint (i.e. not representative of actual construction work) and vice-versa. I wanted to mostly avoid the kind of thing where you just have somebody posing and looking into the camera; that negates the documentary aspect to a large degree – and in my own mind always felt as though either the workers weren’t really working that much, or the whole exercise was forced. In the end, I think I managed a good mix everywhere along the continuum from a fleeting smile to posed to something more natural and mid-work.

*Far more often than you might think; either out of fear that they might be caught doing something wrong and censured later, or for Asian reasons of ‘giving face’ and not wanting the exact nature of their work to be known. There is an inexplicably strong desire to work in a corner office shuffling paper, it seems…

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On Assignment photoessay: Man Machine Monochromes

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I thought I’d present this set a little differently, in the vein of variations on a theme: one with, one without man, in similar situations. They might or might not have been the same subject, they but I think each pair of images is somewhat interchangeable depending on the end use intent – sometimes, you want the people, sometimes, you don’t. Each image is of course optimised for the subjects that did eventually get included – compositionally and presentation-wise. You cannot simply add or remove one element and expect the rest of the composition to remain balanced. Construction is a messy but never ending and necessary business so long as the needs of the people keep changing; whilst some images may look familiar, they’re part of a very long term and ongoing project for the same client. One of the challenges during assignments like this is to keep a level of consistency of visual style, but at the same time with little riffs and variations on it to stop the material from becoming repetitive or boring – more so when you’re dealing with the same subject that’s changing at at relatively slow pace because of the scale of the project. Not easy, but very rewarding…MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50c and H6D-50c and processed with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow. With thanks to Chun Wo Construction Holdings Limited, Hong Kong.

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On Assignment photoessay: Overpass

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My biggest challenge with projects and assignments of this scale is always adequately capturing them and conveying that scale – too wide or too far away, and you lose identifiable detail; too close and you don’t get a feeling for the immensity. There’s no way you can keep an identifiable and isolated human figure in the shot and show the whole extent of a 3km+ long project; even with a silly-sized print from a camera of extremely high resolution. This is where the narrative comes into strength, but also poses challenges. It’s much easier to give a complete impression of something by detailing critical parts; however, with the narrative in mind, you’ll find that there are certain ‘filler’ images required for continuity that might not necessarily stand on their own – and similarly, certain hero shots just don’t flow with the rest of the sequence. This of course leads to a very focused curation, which may well change massively should the intended message also change.

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On-assignment photoessay: Underground again

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Part I, Central Wanchai Bypass

I found myself back in the tunnels under Hong Kong again a couple of months ago. I’d previously visited both locations in a much less complete state – the Central Wanchai Bypass was a trench with a lot of bracing holding the seawall at bay, and Whampoa MTR station was a bare tunnel with no platform and no liners – just a large cavern. The former is now a neatly lined tunnel and roadway awaiting the final finishing touches for ventilation, M&E ducting and lighting; most of this portion of the contract has been or is about to be handed over to the next contract to be finished. The station is now in pretty much recognisable form – even the information counters and ticket kiosks are in, though without their final cladding and not fully cleaned up. At this point you could certainly imagine rush hour passing through, though – even if the work dust everywhere gives things a slightly post-apocalyptic feel. From an execution/ equipment standpoint, I think this assignment was tougher than my first documentary assignment with the H system – Thaipusam 2016 – mainly because the brief was tighter, light levels much lower in some places, and frequently the subjects more conscious of being photographed. For some odd reason, it was much easier to photograph religious festival participants…

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On assignment photoessay: Chinese University of Hong Kong Library

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One from the archives for today – I thought I’d posted this a long time ago, but turns out it sat in the ‘draft posts’ folder. Oops!

Inspiration begets inspiration. At least that’s my own theory of creativity. If you’re in photographically inspiring surroundings, it’s unquestionably easier to make an interesting image than otherwise – or at very least feel that you’ve got far more possibilities to hand. There are some assignments where one must fall back onto professionalism and the motto of the US postal service* to get the job done, but then we also have those where you couldn’t stop shooting even if it were forbidden. This assignment was most certainly the latter, and appropriate given the subject was the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s new library space – which in itself is presumably meant to be inspiring to its students.

*Come rain, come shine, dogs be damned etc.

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On-Assignment Photoessay: Curves in the garden

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This series contains more images from an unusual but highly rewarding assignment last year – documenting the work of landscape architect Charles Jencks, both at the Garden of Cosmic Speculation and the Crawick Multiverse. Both of these are cosmologically-inspired ‘built landscapes’ with features that reference various features of our universe, and best appreciated with time (no pun intended) – it can take some walking not just to see everything, but to get a feel for how the various elements come together and relate to each other. This was one of those rare assignments with an open brief – both intimidating and extremely satisfying at the same time because of potential scope and expectations. Fortunately, all went well. Today’s photoessay focuses on sculpted curves in the Garden of Cosmic Speculation. Note that the changing hues of grass aren’t due to profiling or color mismatches – it was shot over a couple of days and was quite windy (as you can see from the sole long exposure) and light changed fast with the flow of clouds as a result. It isn’t the same as walking through it, but that’s not physically possible for most of us – enjoy, and bonus points if you can spot the smile in the landscape! MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D810, 24-120VR, 24 PCE, 85 PCE, Canon 5DSR and CY Zeiss 2.8/35 PC Distagon, and post processed with PS Workflow II.

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