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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How to be a better photographer

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Shoot happy. Somewhere over Dirk Hartog Island, Western Australia

Question, statement or suggestion and directive? Or perhaps all of the above? I believe very few people are truly 100% happy with their work. I know for a fact I’m not, and most people at the top of their game never are: that’s a big part of why they are where they are. The gulf is one of education: when you start out, you might not know what’s wrong – but you know something is missing. When you’ve got experience, you’re searching for that fifth element of serendipity to bring the magic. But what can we actually tangibly do to keep pushing the game along? I’ve come up with ten things both from the world of photography and beyond, some of which I put into practice now, and some of which I’d like to. Read on if you dare.

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Photoessay: interpretations of a bridge

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How many ways can a famous subject be represented and not made repetitive or boring? I’ve got two theories on this, and honestly, they’re in conflict. Firstly, since no scene, object or location is static – think changes in light, construction and/or decay and the like – then it is actually highly unlikely history repeats. But at a casual glance, near enough is reason for dismissal. On the other hand, if enough people photograph the same object under every possible condition, then chances are ‘near enough’ is going to be met fairly quickly. Every photographer travels in hope of finding something unique; the more photographed a location – in this case the Ponte Luis I in Porto – the higher the expectations and the higher the bar of differentiation – even if the light is suboptimal, we can’t help ourselves. MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50c, 50mm and 100mm lenses. Postprocessing follows Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III and The Weekly Workflow.

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Photojournalism has never been objective

_7035714bw copyNepal, 2011

At the risk of starting with fighting words, I question the objectivity and absoluteness of photojournalism as a reporting medium. I actually think the problem is not so much that photography has descended into a parody of manipulation, filters, photoshop and other things, but more that our collective societal expectations have warped what we perceive and how we perceive it. The recent move by Reuters to only accept JPEG submissions with minimal processing ‘in the interests of timeliness’ is at the beginning of my line of thought.

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Photoessay: Lisboan melancholy

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Despite the sunniness of the weather and the outward happiness and enjoyment of most, there was definitely something brewing under the surface: a slight undercurrent of unhappiness or unease. Perhaps a reflection of an economy still not fully robust and recovered, or a city that felt a little bit too big for the number of actual residents; quiet lanes and grand old buildings that had seen better days that were waiting for restitution that might not come. Or uncertainty over the future, mortgages, employment, the rising costs of living – the social divide that’s not unique by any means to Lisbon. Or maybe it was just because the next day was Monday. It’s the juxtaposition between that mood, the facial expressions, the body language, the dress as though expecting rain – and the wonderful warm sunshine that I found so intriguing. That tension followed me subconsciously through the city that day, and here is the result…MT

This series was shot mostly with a Hasselblad H5D-50c, 50mm and 100mm lenses in Lisbon, Portugal, with a couple of supporting images from a Leica Q. Postprocessing follows Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III and The Weekly Workflow.

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From the archives: The appeal of landscape

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I admit to being very late to the game in landscape photography – it’s something I’ve not really done seriously until pretty much this year; I suppose the main reason was a solid lack of opportunity. When you live in the tropics, then your shooting hours are limited: light is great in the morning and evening, but weather usually conspires against you with pollution, convection rain, or just general haze. Travel opportunities have changed that somewhat, however I think my quest to create images that are the kind of art you’d want to hang has lead me to look at new subject matter. This of course in conjunction with the ongoing quest to find subject matter that makes the most of the immersive experience of the Ultraprints and vice versa. Of late, however, I’ve found the process meditative (if frantic when light serves) and challenging in a good way: a successful image must parse a very three-dimensional and fractal subject into a limited reproduction medium, which forces you to carefully visualise the result and output medium.

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Photoessay: Australian sunsets

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Boats under sky. This image is available as a 16×12″ Ultraprint in an edition of 20, here. Please include your telephone number for the courier at checkout.

Everybody likes a good sunset – I suppose it’s an age-old thing programmed deep into our DNA from the days when surviving to the end of the day was worthy of a celebration; not getting eaten or dying of disease was probably a good thing. Today it may be nothing more than the relief of surviving the boss or excitement at the start of the evening’s entertainment, but the satisfaction factor hasn’t changed. Every photographer has probably tried it at least once, and probably more, no matter how much it pains us to admit it. So why deny it at all? If anything, I’ll be the first to admit that doing something different is extremely challenging given the nature of the subject matter and limitations of perspective and position. It’s even more difficult because the very intense colors of an Australian sunset challenge the dynamic range of pretty much every camera – even the medium format monsters, requiring very careful exposure to avoid clipping a channel. Sit back and enjoy, whatever time it may be in your part of the world. MT

This series is presented in approximately chronological order, and was shot at various locations along the Western Australian coast on the Indian Ocean between Geraldton and Francois Peron National Park. I used a Hasselblad H5D-50c and various lenses, and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III and techniques in the Weekly Workflow.

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Aesthetics beyond the image

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Opening questions: What is beauty? What is elegance? What is ugliness? What is refinement? What’s the difference between functionality and art? What do we prefer one object over another, given choice, and identical function/ consumption of resources? These are not easy questions to answer: they require us to address fundamental challenges of not just personal preference, but also identity. We like something because we choose it over something else; we find that beautiful but that preference is a consequence of personal biases, needs, requirements and ultimately – experiences which make our personality and preferences the way they are. Yet our instinctive responses to things are often both immediate and quite strong: the like or dislike is established within moments of contact, and whilst prolonged exposure might breed some latitude born of understanding and tolerance, it’s unlikely to change love into hate. I want to address a very difficult set of questions today: what is the aesthetic sense? How can it be developed? Does it matter for photography, and if so, how does it make us better (or worse)?

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Photoessay: Idea of Man, Lisbon

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Continuing my ongoing exploration of the Idea of Man theme in Lisbon has lead to a bit of a divergence – on one hand, we have the very social areas where the tourists and residents congregate and interact; on the other hand, there’s also definitely a sense of isolation and a city that’s a bit too big for the number of people living there. The wistful dreaming at the transition point makes me wonder – nostalgia or perhaps not quite a true desire to escape, but certainly a strong drive to see what’s over the horizon? MT

This series was shot mostly with a Hasselblad H5D-50c, 50mm and 100mm lenses in Lisbon, Portugal, with a couple of supporting images from a Leica Q. Postprocessing follows Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow II and The Weekly Workflow.

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Stabilisation is good…but only up to a point.

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Look at the 100% view: clear smearing at 1/60s and 32mm-e – on a 16MP camera, with stabiliser on? Does not compute. Important to figure out why, yes?

I’ve been party to several discussions of late in which the merits of stabilised systems have been discussed at length, and wanted to share my experiences here for the simple reason that I don’t think the benefits – or not – of stabilisers are quite so clear cut anymore. To clarify, because I wouldn’t be surprised if my comments were taken out of context: I think stabilisers have their place, but only up to a point. Beyond that, we either need improvements in the underlying stabiliser tech or we need to accept that it’s not as effective as we’ve previously been used to.

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