I’ve spent the last week producing some material for Hasselblad with a pair of preproduction X1D prototypes; I’ve teased the results of that in this post and the full content is in final production right now. In the meantime, I wanted to share some images from that shoot and thoughts on use of the X1D for street photography/ documentary. The portrait samples go up first because I’ve received quite a lot of mail asking about a) bokeh; b) available light performance; c) people.
We all have places, things and events we’d like to photograph – my mind was drifting on a recent drive back from Singapore, and I thought it might be interesting to compile a list in one place both for me to share some of my ideas with readers, and for you to contribute your own in the comments. Some I’ve done/been to, and others remain aspirational. We may well become aware some things locally that we hadn’t considered exotic or interesting, and if some interesting images come out of it – why not? There is one caveat, though: the bucket list has to be feasible (i.e. ‘the moon’ is out).
I’ve always found the Atlantic coastlines to be a little melancholy: there’s the beauty of nature, but often something heavy in the sky and a bite to the wind that makes you glad you brought your coat and hat. People still go because they’re attracted to the sea and presumably wondering what’s over the horizon; in this case, we’re at one of the westernmost points of the European continental mainland, and there’s pretty much nothing until you hit the coast of America. This series of images was shot in the space of a couple of hours. Porto’s old town proper had proven rather depressing, and the weather hadn’t helped; we took a chance and headed to the coast with the hopes of one last hurrah before returning to Lisbon. I’m glad we did, because I think it paid off – even if it meant using a lot of damp towels later to carefully dissolve the dried salt off our equipment. Despite the huge amount of moisture in the air and seawater splashing everywhere, the Hasselblad didn’t miss a beat – though curiously there was a lot more dust on the sensor than normal, perhaps sticking as a consequence of humidity.
The term ‘format’ has come to represent two things in photographic parlance – firstly, the aspect ratio of the capture area or composition (e.g. 3:2, square, 16:9) and also the physical size of the recording medium (compact, APS-C, M4/3, ‘full frame’ etc.) – to the point that we have somewhat generic terms like ‘medium format’ and ‘large format’. How medium is medium? Is that 44×33, or 6x9cm? How large is large – 4×5″, or 20×24″? Capture medium choices are more of a continuum than anything, and all other things being equal, to see a significant difference a good rule of thumb is that you’re going to have to double the linear dimensions – i.e. 4x overall area. But what does all of this have to do with the actual making of images, and is it possible that larger isn’t necessarily better for some things? Absolutely.
I actually prefer to think of these as little stories, or vignettes – I suppose that should really be the objective of street photography; to capture an transient and narrative element of life in a documentary way. That little slice of time might not be significant to anybody other than the main players, but it’s no excuse for a lack of story. I’m going to complete my version of the story by adding titles…even if audience preferences may differ Enjoy! MT
This series was shot with a Nikon D5500, 55-200/4-5.6 DX VR, Sony A7RII, Zeiss 2.8/21 Loxia, Zeiss 1.8/85 Batis, and Contax Zeiss 2.8/85 Sonnar and post processed with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow. You can also get your weekly dose of PS right here…
Dali ‘Atomicus’, unretouched. Source: Wikipedia, used under the terms of the Creative Commons
One of the less commonly cited photographic greats, Philippe Halsman is perhaps best known for his Atomicus portrait of Salvador Dali, above. He also photographed a number of other personalities of the time for Life and other magazines; I personally get the feeling his work is about as close as you can get to a constructed biography in a single frame. I had a discussion with one of my students recently about his six rules for the creation of photographic ideas – and the execution of that portrait. There was no Photoshop in 1948, and retouching was limited to painting over things – in this case, the removal of some of the supports for the various elements in the frame. The final image was take number twenty eight: by that point, the cats had probably had enough. The salient points of Halsman’s life and career are better summed up by Wikipedia, here. Today’s article is a few thoughts on that portrait and his principles in general.
Almost everybody falls into one of two categories: creator or consumer. Do you spend more time making content or material, derivative or otherwise, than consuming it? Do you prefer to make or view images? Of the creators, there are positive, derivative and negative. The positives try to advance art, science and and knowledge by providing a point of view or product or device or service that hasn’t existed previously, whilst maybe or maybe not benefitting personally from the provision of said novelty. The line between positive and derivative is a blurry one, and perhaps doesn’t cleanly exist – in my mind, it’s down to whether the creator tries to add some element of originality or not; there’s no such thing as 100% uniqueness or 100% invention from nothing. We cannot create without some base of precedent or inspiration, no matter how remote or seemingly unrelated. But the more remote the connections that are made in the creation of something, the more the creator contributes by joining the dots, making the logical conclusions and helping the rest of us see what we might have missed.
I view The Idea of Man project as mostly complete; the story is tight and stylistically consistent. But I’ve been thinking a lot about its sequel in the time since the exhibition; to begin with – is there one at all? Where does one go from the story of the individual finding their place in the world? The answer came to me after some long exposure urban landscape: it’s in community, in groups, in the flow and interaction of individuals. And that idea will be at the core of The Idea of Man II.
Things are not as they seem: experimentation, in capture and post
This is an alternative take on an earlier piece I wrote, also on a creative frame of mind: from a different frame of mind, no less. There are some professions where you don’t have to be in the right mood to do your job well. You can be an effective consultant, accountant or middle management without having to be particularly inspired; in fact, imagination is generally not a good thing when it comes to accounting and finance anyway. (At least that’s what Inland Revenue said; if you’re Prime Minister, that’s another thing entirely). However, for creative professions – photography, videography, design, writing, music etc. – there’s no question that your state of mind has a direct and very tangible impact on the outcome of the work. As a photographer, professionalism – the ability to deliver at a minimum standard that’s above your client’s expectations under effectively all circumstances – is the bare minimum. But inspiration is what really make the difference between workaday and brilliant. [Read more…]
I came away from Porto with a bit of strange feeling about Porto. From a distance, and on the opposite bank of the Douro, the old town looks charming and quaint, with a vibrant revival immediately around you. The sun is shining, the tourists are enjoying their wine tastings, and the locals are eager to please. Go back over, however, and a cloud seems to settle; edifices that appeared charmingly quaint are really decaying very badly and somewhere between neglected and derelict. There are few locals left, and those who are are very elderly and not in much better shape than the buildings. Smiles are absent. Tourists are tolerated or seen as targets. It is altogether a very different Porto from The Other Side. It seemed to me that most of the locals inhabited a sort of zone between the two – a monotonous grey transience between the two states of decay and forced tourist joviality. They lived lives subservient to their environment and took what little joy where they could find it – a drink here, a smoke there, a bit of sun when it showed. It honestly felt a bit sad. These are the impressions I left with of life in Porto. MT