Photoessay: Hagia Sophia, part I

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Hagia Sophia is not only an incredible piece of engineering and architecture – but also one of faith. Constructed in its current form between 532 and 537 AD, it has served as church and mosque (and now museum). Even today, you can’t help but be inspired, humbled and in awe of the work behind it; given its sheer size, it would still take a significant effort to build with modern construction techniques, and that’s excluding the huge amount of specialised handwork required for decoration and outfitting. I’m pretty sure very little of what we build today at that scale will still be around in 1500 years. The question of faith is quite interesting, too: the sheer resources and determination to construct something of that size places huge demands on the population of the city and its rulers. There was probably no economic return model, either – unlike say the European market towns of the Middle Ages. What impressed me the most wasn’t so much the sheer size or unsupported internal volume (though this was still significant) – but the detail given to every surface. Not all of it was completed by 537, and renovations and restoration have been pretty much ongoing non stop thanks to wars, earthquakes and simple entropy – but it’s nevertheless what makes it a truly colossal undertaking, and because of this I think of the renovations as much a part of the building as anything else. Other buildings like the Pyramids might be larger, but they simply don’t have the same kind of finishing requirements, or continual evolution and sense of being an active, alive part of history rather than merely a passive observer. (And I can’t think of anything modern except perhaps the Sagrada Familia that comes close, and even that is still not finished after more than a hundred years.)

I had the opportunity to shoot it for perhaps a few hours total; nowhere near enough time to do justice to the structure (and obviously not around the scaffolds, tripod restrictions etc.) – even so, there are so many images this photoessay will be split into two parts. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot in Istanbul with a Hasselblad H6D-100c, 50, 100 and 150mm lenses, and post processed with Photoshop and LR Workflow III (and the Weekly Workflow). Get more out of your voyages with T1: Travel Photography.

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Photoessay: Rhythmic geometries

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I see the images in this post as a sort of musical score: the suggestion of an overall harmony (wave) interspersed with little details and textures is too strong to ignore. I don’t know any of the correct musical terminology for this kind of thing, but I do know that I feel the same way about these abstract compositions as I do when I listen to a piece of classical music: there’s a strong underlying structure linking the whole score together, but at the same time also little diversions and explorations into variations that hold your attention and get you thinking. There is a similar change of scale here – not all the instruments play at the same time in every image; you might not have the same range of scale, but you do have the same sensation of layering and interplay of shadow. When the piece shifts into the next movement, not all of the elements may make it through intact, but enough do that you can recognise continuity in style; a sort of design language. MT

These images were shot in Singapore with a Hasselblad X1D-50c and 90mm, and post processed with either PS Workflow III and the Weekly Workflow or The Monochrome Masterclass. See more on your journeys with T1: Travel Photography and the How to See series.

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On photographing architecture

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This feels like an appropriate post given it follows both discussions around inspirations and a photoessay on buildings: good architectural photography is a bit of both, I think. (I also realise that I’ve never really written about architectural photography, or its close cousin, interiors – though there are subtle but significant differences between the two.) The subject has to be inspiring enough to motivate the photographer to spend a bit more time in, around and using the building to better understand how the intentions of the architects translate into practice; and on top of that, we must work around limitations in access, vantage points, light – and of course an immovable, living object that’s still in use. In short: it’s not quite as easy as one might think after casually getting a good image or two; read on to understand why and how to work around it.

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Photoessay: Architectural snippets, Singapore

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I like to think of this kind of image as little microcosms of environment – not quite a full wimmelbild, but more a degustation of the little area in which the image was captured. The images presented today are on a few different scales – everything from fairly intimate upwards. I think they’re fairly representative of the mood and feel of the immediate vicinity, at least from the perspective of an observer who’s just passing through. I honestly don’t know how to categorise images like this: not traditional architecture and not really pure abstract – they have no commercial application and appeal only to a very particular narrow aesthetic. Why do we make images like this? Because they appeal to us at some personal level; I suppose what speaks to me here is the compressed intricacy that can only be as product of evolution as opposed to planning – especially the little unexpected signs of life that suggest adaptation, humanity and real people as opposed to purely hard materials. MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50C and H6D-50C, various lenses and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Photoessay: John Rylands, Manchester

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I had a very small amount of time between meetings during a recent visit to Manchester; one of the buildings on my to-shoot list is (was, I guess) the John Rylands Library. It’s an interesting mix of new and old, much in the same kind of style as the British Museum, and to a lesser extent, the Louvre. The new part is very new; stark, minimalist and somewhat Escheresque in places; the old part is very much Gothic (though built in the late 19th Century, and opened in 1900). The detailing and finesse of the stonework is both delicate and extremely detailed; it’s an absolutely beautiful building to photograph. It’s also sensitively lit inside, too. Whilst photography is permitted, tripods aren’t, so one has to be either very steady – or find something to brace against*. The oculus/ring/gallery in the last shot is a personal favourite feature: you almost expect a portal to another dimension to open from time to time (but only during visiting hours, 10am-5pm Monday-Friday, closes 2pm Saturday). MT

*I can’t help but think an E-M1.2 and 12-100 with its incredible stabiliser combination would have been perfect here.

This series was shot with a preproduction Hasselblad X1D, 45 and 90mm lenses, and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III. Roam vicariously with T1: Travel Photography. and the How to See series.

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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: Because it is Tokyo and there must be architecture

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But even though Tokyo is defender of the modern, the minimalist and the avant-garde, it wouldn’t be a fair representation with a little subversive chaotic mess to sneak into the curation somewhere – in many ways, a fair representation of the real city. Whilst most of the quick-expansion concrete boxes are being rapidly erased by more modern and more interesting structures – especially in the more expensive parts of Tokyo – there are one or two left. I can’t help but wonder if in future they’ll turn out to be historical curiosities much like what we think of as ‘traditional’ buildings are today…I can only hypothesise everything is relative. MT

This series was shot with a Canon 100D, 24STM and 55-250STM lenses, an X1D-50c and 90mm, and a H6D-100c and 100mm. Post processing was completed using the techniques in the weekly workflow and PS Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Facade

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I tend to think of these structures and images as representing the blunt end of modern architecture – they’re the somewhat generic barriers thrown up to segregate a space from the outside world in a somewhat arbitrary and identity-less manner. The spaces promise all sorts of things but in reality must be reusable and take on the inscrutable identity of their many corporate inhabitants. The whole concept of ‘identity’ is somewhat nebulous in any case: how do you translate the personality of a collective of individuals who are mostly there solely because the job pays, not because they have any great vision for the company? Answer: you don’t. And whilst architects continue to play with abstract geometries, geometric forms and more glass, every building seems to get just that bit more anonymous. I can’t think of any better way to show this than the effective blending of one building into the next…MT

This series was shot with a mix of cameras (mostly a Hasselblad H5) and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Painted shadows, part I

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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

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50C, various lenses and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Shadows and details

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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

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50C, and H6D-50c, various lenses and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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