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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Photoessay: Architectural shadows in monochrome, Prague

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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

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50C, H6D-50c and various lenses and post processed with the Monochrome Masterclass Workflow.

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Photoessay: Night falls

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With the benefit of an unusually clear evening in the usually quite overcast tropics, it’s possible to appreciate the subtle and wide variety of hues the evening sky transitions through – and the interesting interplay off the mirrored glass and water between artificial and reflected light. People often ask why I like to shoot in cities; it’s partially because of the difficulty in finding similar natural environments which are close enough to allow you to photograph in often, and partially because only the built environment gives you this kind of transition. It’s also a glimpse into somebody else’s imagination and vision to some degree; how did they envision their creation in the existing environment. Even if it’s merely a product of corporate averaging, we still get to see what the collective masses expect and deem to be ‘good’…MT

This series was shot in Singapore with a Hasselblad H5D-50c and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Urban detail, Lisbon

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Today’s photoessay is a series of detail images from Lisbon – small vignettes and scenes which I feel give a reasonably representative flavour of the older parts of the city. Yes, there’s a modern surprise in there about halfway in, but in many ways, this is also typical: there’ll often be an unexpected bit of architecture or facade tucked away in amongst the antiques, too. I’m sure more than a week here would have yielded a tighter distillation, and there are almost certainly interesting local pockets I’ve missed out on, but I also felt I had the benefit some pretty exceptional light; interesting how those light coloured buildings tend to bounce, reflect and fill each other so there are actually very few really deep shadows – even in narrow alleyways. Lots of textures, too, ranging from what I think of as ‘cheery Mediterranean tile’ to ‘Eastern European patina’. Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50C, HC 24, 50 and 100mm lenses and post processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Two buildings and a break

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For some odd reason, I’ve always thought these two buildings* to be amongst the most difficult to photograph in Singapore – partially because they’re such iconic landmarks that there’s almost no angle or light or weather condition that hasn’t already been exploited; you’re almost afraid to take a photograph because there’s a high chance you’ll just be doing something unoriginal. On top of that, the structures themselves are oddly shaped and the perspectives available at ground level are somewhat limited so that they look very similar from a wide range of vantage points. In the end, I landed up going back to basics: what is the essence of the form and feel of the structure? The result was a series of abstracts of each building. I’ve left what appears to be an unconnected ‘conventional’ image to divide between them, for the simple reason that under the skin: the hardware and M&E doesn’t change. MT

*If you aren’t familiar with Singapore architecture, the two buildings are of Art Science Museum and the Parkroyal on Pickering.

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50c, 35-90mm and 150mm lenses and post processed with The Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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Photoessay: Regular forms

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Unconsciously, I must have been searching for Mondriansque architecture – with a touch of diagonal Rothko thrown in by the shadows. I can’t really think of a good reason why, but it came through in the post-shoot curation. Perhaps it’s because those two artists decomposed form into nothing mor than shape, colour and luminance, and for the last few years I’ve been seeing the world not as ‘tree’, ‘car’, ‘person’, ‘building’ but ‘triangle on rectangle’, ‘organic contrasty shape on circles’, ‘matte organic shapes, round on rectangle’ and ‘coloured regular/ recursive squares’ – which I suppose fits in with their gestalt. It feels like visual reductionism, but isn’t – because I don’t consciously search for purely clean forms to the exclusion of some of the more textured and wimmelbild aspects of reality. I also don’t think it’d have worked as well in a location with less directional light and more faded colour – a certain blockiness/ solidity is required. 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.

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