Popular reactions to art

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A few months back, the touring Leonardo Da Vinci reproduction exhibition “Opera Omnia” made a stop in Kuala Lumpur. Whilst obviously not the originals, 17 decent reproductions were made on transparent canvas and backlit to simulate the experience of viewing a well-lit painting as closely as possible. I say ‘decent’ because the method was quite clever, but close up some of the the reproductions clearly lacked the print resolution required to really capture the subtlety of the originals – both Da Vinci’s own extremely fine brushstrokes on areas such as hair, but also the ageing and craquelure that’s a large part of the experience. Obviously, the “3D-ness” of real paint were not reproduced, though I suspect with a little less diffusion on the light used for the initial reproduction, some shadows of surface texture might have been captured. Interestingly, even behind barriers, glass, and at a greater distance – the originals somehow feel much more textural than the reproductions. But I digress – this is not so much about the reproduction method as more general commentary on the public and the way art is seen/appreciated/interpreted in general.

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Photoessay: Nighthawk

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I think it’s very difficult to be in the US and not subconsciously influenced by Hopper, especially when walking around Manhattan; little vignettes rear their head and intrude into your field of view. One is powerless to do anything but raise the camera, and hit the button. Repeatedly. Then put your own twist and context on it, and try to parse it in a modern context. It’s actually quite easy to see where the painters of the era got their inspiration. Despite being painted nearly a century ago…it seems the mood hasn’t changed that much – or at least at the time these were shot, pre-COVID, that was the feeling I got. As with all of these things, I wish I’d had more time…what you see is but the briefest impression of a transient. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70/4 S and 50/1.8 S lenses, using my custom SOOC JPEG picture controls.

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Photoessay: Mobile sketchbook

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On the back of the previous post, I realize I haven’t posted anything from my smartphone in a while – oddly, it isn’t because I haven’t been using it; it’s because its role keeps changing for me, from a curiosity and article of discipline (enforcing seeing and shot discipline completely independently of hardware) to an object of convenience, to a document copier, and now on to a visual sketchbook of sorts. I know I tried this already with the Pen F; that turned out be treated as a more serious photography tool which has since converged around the Z7 or D3500, leaving a hole for something for me to experiment with – and specifically, one with the extended DOF of a smaller sensor. There’s sadly no 100mm+ perspective option, but careful positioning and composition means the 56mm module renders more compressed than you might think. A good photographer should be able to work within and around limitations and not make excuses and all that… MT

Shot with an iPhone XS Max, no processing.

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Photoessay: Beached

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Take a visual holiday – a warm, tranquil, high-key break from the usual dense wimmelbild I prefer. Enjoy the varied colours of clouds and sky as they progress through the day. I could probably have shot more, but seen less. I could probably have brought better and more hardware, and felt constrained and less inclined to experiment. I could have not shot at all and just used my phone. But it’s impossible to deny still being a photographer and feeling more comfortable with than without; knowing that even if you’re mentally in switched off mode, you at least still have the option. The regular bustle is far away in the distance. And sometimes, what you produce reflects your mood – and that can be pleasingly refreshing. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D3500, kit lenses and processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Upwards

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Today’s set is the result of a sore neck in New York – there’s so much verticality so close to you that you’re always craning upwards to see what the light is doing at the peaks. Street level is mostly shady given the angle of the sun and the blockage of surrounding structures, but there’s inevitably a lot of interesting contrast at the tops of the buildings – not to mention such a dense urban wimmelbild of shapes and textures. Perhaps it can get a little repetitive, but I find the homogeneity quite interesting – it’s the same, and yet it isn’t. The challenge lies in giving each frame its own personality – especially when the preference tends to involve shooting at a certain time of day for the right kind of shadows. And no, I didn’t always correct the keystoning – sometimes, that’s a large part of what creates that sensation of towering into the distance. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70 Z and my custom JPEG picture controls, and a Fuji XF10 and Workflow III.

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The age of influencers

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Once upon a time, there was the internet. Then digital photography. Then user-generated content. Then high-turnover social media. Then the validation of one’s choices via social media kudos/likes/shares/comments/interactions. And then the snowball effect of the loudest person being heard and seen the most – and given instant credibility. And those without enough knowledge, conviction or confidence of their own heading into blind tailgating – enter the age of the influencer. Technically, an influencer is a person who is an opinion leader or tastemaker; ideally, their position is earned by the validity of their opinions through experience. Unfortunately, visibility or peer validation by other equally clueless people is now a frequent substitute for experience – and they’re really not the same thing. Historically, people whose opinions were heeded were valuable to brands because they could affect consumer buying behaviour. There is obviously commercial value in this, prompting more and more others to position themselves as ‘influencers’, too: but what happens when credibility is not only for sale, but appears to have more scale/ weight than legitimate experience? Enter my prediction for the next phase of social media: the death of the influencer.

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Photoessay: Portman

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As you can probably imagine, I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels in my time – some memorable, some less so. Some newer, some older. But one of the most architecturally interesting has to be John Portman’s Hyatt Regency in San Francisco. I’m sure there’s a proper classification/ term/ era for it, but it felt nothing so much like a representation of the neofuturisitc optimism of the late 70s or early 80s; from the inverse pyramid to the ‘turbolifts’, funky lighting and exposed buttresses, almost like stepping into a Star Trek set. You almost expect to hear a klaxon and see the whole thing flash red at times. It also retains some sizing traits I associate with mid-century architecture – long, narrow-ish corridors, largely unadorned surfaces, none of the grandiose scale and ornateness of the earlier part of the century, and none of the bare expansiveness of space of the 2000s. Whilst the rooms have undoubtedly been redecorated countless times, they still manage to retain a sort of southwestern charm. At the right times of day the skylights project interesting shadows, too – more so thanks to the hardness of light and relative lack of clouds in this part of the world. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70 Z and my custom JPEG picture controls.

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Photoessay: homogeneity

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If most structures are designed to fit in with their surroundings, it stands to reason they’ll be a visual average of the buildings on either side, or a sort of mirror; factor in stylistic changes, function and the trends of the time of construction, and the mirror also includes dilution. Eventually, we have mirrors of mirrors. It even happens at a variety of scales, with similar distorted vignettes in every pane of glass. I actually struggled to find the right word for the title. What I’m trying to describe isn’t so much uniformity as an averaging towards the same; yet it’s not entropy because it’s an ordered state. And it’s not replication because the structures aren’t exactly the same; they can’t be since they were constructed individually and had to fit whatever their immediate surroundings of the time were. Perhaps the best description is starting with a collection of random objects, replacing one by one with a mirror; the mirrors are not symmetrically placed, and little of the original chaos remains – but just enough that there is a very diluted flavour left… MT

Shot with a variety of hardware in a number of cities over several years.

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The concept of ‘visual weight’

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Heavy, but with light inside bits. Translation: transparency

I keep getting asked about this, and then remember I’d already covered it. Here goes the gentle reminder!

We acknowledge that every medium of expression has its strengths and limitations relative to others. Yet our basis for discussion and understanding of concepts and ideas is very much a written/spoken language-based one, this remains our benchmark – more so when the concepts become more complex and less intuitive – or the opposite, so simple and basic they’re entirely intuitive and not at all logical. There are of course severe limitations of language when it comes to describing the visual properties of expression and composition, yet it’s usually easy for us to see when something isn’t quite right. Why, how, and what do proportions, weight, balance, composition and aesthetics have to do with each other? Is there a somewhat more objective way to handle these concepts? I’m not certain, but today were going to try.

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Photoessay: Window seat IV

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Continued from the previous series of Window Seat photoessays…

Sometimes you get extremely lucky on a single round trip – and one of short duration on a budget airline, no less! I don’t think I’ve ever had this high a yield on a total flying time of about six hours before – at least not when the purpose of the flight wasn’t photography and I wasn’t able to direct the pilot. Most of what made the images interesting was the variety of weather conditions; no doubt because we were flying during monsoon season (which could itself be amply felt) with the heat and humidity required to create spectacularly dense/large clouds quickly, and the winds to whip them up into spectacularly interesting formations. For some of the ground locations – such as the lake that looks like a section through a brain – I can only imagine how much more spectacular they might have been at the right time of day (possibly at the expense of the clouds). It always pays to pick a window seat!

This series was shot with a Nikon D3500 and processed with Workflow III.

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