I think of this set as Idea of Man, with inspiration by Saul Leiter. The whole thing comes together to be a little bit surreal, but more intense than you’d expect with full-fat color left in. I’ve deliberately used longer perspectives in most of these images to intensify that feeling of stacking, and having the world vying for your attention. To my eyes, it has the same level of distraction from your intended focus as a walk through a really cosmopolitan city would do in real life; especially one that’s somewhat new and unfamiliar to you. In such situations, the familiar catches your eye, as does the very unfamiliar; there’s the constant tug of war between trying to figure out and experience the new, and putting it in context with that which you already know. And before you’ve managed to place things in your own mind, something else (usually unexpected) cuts through the stage and demands your eye. MT
Though a book of photographs is something that I’ve been asked for time and again – I’ve honestly felt that it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to do, both because ultimately the audience is quite limited, and because the economics are a bit of a disaster if you care the slightest about quality. Speaking to many possible publishers, printers, and photographers who’ve done it (including those considered to be highly successful in this game, such as Nick Brandt) – it’s clear to me that any sort of photographic-only book is only worth doing if somebody with deep pockets is funding it for you. For example, Brandt doesn’t break even on any of his books – because his required standards for printing are so high; the problem is once you’ve seen what’s possible, it’s very difficult to compromise. Yet…I’ve not only decided to do one, but my editor and I are well into the process of putting it together already. Why? Let me attempt to rationalise – and share some of the frustrations…
We often talk about the painterly qualities of an image, but without the right quality of light, and to some extent, subject matter – it isn’t possible to create the same controlled contrast and muted tones that the style relies on. Fortunately, Prague in autumn has both low angle light (i.e. not that intense) but clear skied (directional, not diffused) days in abundance – and old, pastel-painted buildings. The buildings themselves appear almost graphic and illustrated a lot of the time: they’re either newly restored or rehabbed or well maintained, and so lack the sort of surface defects that often mar the graphic illusion I sought. My biggest problem was actually too much dynamic range… MT
A little reframing – not as chaotic as I’d have expected…
I’ve said a lot about cropping in the past, when I think it’s justified, and even a little bit about the proto-wimmelbild interpretation of recursion in composition. Bottom line: good/acceptable cropping is when the composition and restriction of edges is done deliberately and premeditatively before capture; you know you’re going to need to leave some stuff on the cutting floor because perhaps your finder edges aren’t precise or 100%, because you want a non-native aspect ratio, or because you didn’t bring a longer lens but composed for a tighter scene in the middle of the frame. Bad cropping is when you’re hunting for a composition after capture – it’s not deliberate at the time of initial composition and is basically trying your luck. The key differentiator here is one of intent.
Texture is shadows, and shadows are texture: at the micro level, surface irregularities are thrown into relief and colors are intensified. This latter effect is an interesting property of raked lighting: since the pits in the surface structure of an object are in shadow, the overall reflected luminosity is lower. However, there are also small portions that appear brighter because some light may reflect off surfaces at precisely the right angle. End result: microcontrast is higher, colors are deeper/richer and textures are made to appear more real (if such a thing is possible). I love old buildings like these because they are perfect subjects for this kind of light: some surfaces are rendered smooth by centuries of paint; others by centuries of wear; and still others show the marks of etching of pollution etc. It’s an interesting study in color, form and texture…MT
Probably the easiest way to ‘wimmelbild‘ a scene is to add reflections: the more reflections, the more layering and the more complexity can be built in. Of course it then becomes difficult to create structure in the image that allows space for a clear primary subject, and then find a physically/spatially possible way to actually insert that subject – it’s no good if your free space is on the ceiling, for example. The light in Lisbon on severals of the days I was there was just so conducive to creation of these types of images I couldn’t help myself – strong, intense colors, clean plate glass (or car glass) and one or two clear human subjects meant that it was a wimmelfetishist’s dream. I’m sure somebody is going to say I’m being overly pretentious about this, but there’s surely got to be a metaphor in here for life – every person surrounded by complexity and layers of thought, or places surrounded by unseen/ unacknowledged history. It’s a bit more personal than idea of man because the images need the specific individuals to work, and somewhat different to the ‘traditionally expected’ street photography – I find that it’s much more contingent on the environment and finding the right individual to fit your expectation of a story than vice versa. Enjoy! MT
I had an odd feeling walking around Prague on this last trip – something that was not there the first time I visited in 2011, nor subsequently. Perhaps it was the sheer number of tourists; perhaps it was the lack of locals. But I couldn’t shake the sensation of walking around in a very big museum; everything preserved just so, architecture restored to beyond its original heights, yet somehow just tipping over that point where the residents live in the buildings to the residents living for the buildings. The stage itself was nicer than it had ever been; but somehow…something was missing. A degree of isolation came into play, and perhaps the friendliness was just a tad more forced than the last time I was here. Chalk it down to collective fatigue; perhaps: when everything is special, nothing is special anymore. Just soft people trying to fit into a rigid environment.
I’ve written previously about what exactly contributes to the ‘medium format look’. However, I think to some degree we also need to both define what constitutes the hallmarks of smaller formats, but more importantly figure out where each format’s strengths lie. Having now shot what I’d consider ‘enough’ with a complete MF system wth lenses ranging from ultra wide (24mm, or 18mm-e) to moderate tele (250mm, or 180mm-e) I think I’ve built up a much more complete picture. No doubt this will change if the recording medium size increase further – with the 54x40mm sensors, for instance – but I think it’s fairly safe to extrapolate based on the differences between subsequent smaller formats.
Intense light, hard shadows, either end of the day: don’t be afraid of the dark, and let some of the negative space define the object’s form – or imagined form. Without shadows, we have no texture, no depth, no spatial separation. It’s interesting just how much of a suggestion of soft and hard you can get out of it even though all of the subjects are physically rigid – clean, dense shadows suggest crispness and hardness; feathering and irregularity suggest a certain yielding texture. Do buildings have personality? I think so, especially if they stand in contrast to their surroundings. Does this sense of texture contribute? Probably. MT
I said at the start of 2016 that the overall market for photographic services (commissioned work, art, education) was getting lumpier and smaller: I don’t think that’s changed. If anything, it’s gotten worse. I suspect this is an underlying societal change more than anything: people are simply getting bored. So where does that leave us in 2017?