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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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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Photoessay: California light

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I’m pretty sure I’ve remarked previously on the particular quality of light that places of moderate latitudes by a sea seem to have – the other two that come to mind are Lisbon and Tokyo. I think it’s characterised by a few things: a clear and directionality of shadow (but not quite the same harshness one gets from direct overhead light in the tropics); coloration at either end of the day from the evaporated moisture in the air filtering light from low angles creating the kind of skies people pay a lot of money to emulate with filters; and lastly, a sort of almost overintensity of color. Everything feels saturated and hyper-real, but at the same time not garish. A tricky thing to reproduce digitally, especially in colours which reside almost entirely in one channel – the reds of cars parked in bright sunshine, the intense blue of a late afternoon sky – yet these are the little subliminal visual cues that tell us where we are, and make us long for the sea. MT

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

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Photoessay: Architecture, digested

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I’ve always found Architectural Digest to be a slightly odd publication title; I realise it’s in the same condensed vein as Reader’s Digest in the sense of being a distilled essence of the things you probably want to know. To me, the word has always carried implications of something chewed up, softened and mushed into waste products. Certainly dimensionally collapsed, or in the process of being. Hence today’s long-period curation around the theme unearths and presents perspective-flattened, distilled architectural details; the kind of images that the PR department hates because they’re ‘too abstract’ and ‘not whole building’ but architects themselves love because the details they fought the client to keep actually get appreciated. I’m with the architects on this one – if they can distill the character of the building into one or two interesting vignettes, it ought to be worth highlight. MT

Shot over a long period of time with a wide variety of hardware; mostly processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Photoessay: PAM, part II

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Continued from part I

The way bright sunshine projects through the space through its various apertures and orifices is the kind of thing that is practically begging for a high contrast monochrome series – in person, the actual interior is much more similar to the first set of images in brightness as the concrete reflects and diffuses a lot of those hard beams. I imagine it’d be a very different space on an overcast day, with none of the drama and detail seen at the time I shot it. The horological side of me couldn’t help but think some of those floors would be great with calibrated scales to allow the light to be used as a sundial of sorts… MT

This set was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70 and my custom SOOC JPEG profile pack.

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Photoessay: PAM, part I

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What happens if you have a group of architects design a building entirely for themselves? The PAM (Pertubuhan Akitek Malaysia – Malaysian Institute of Architects) building in Kuala Lumpur is precisely that. I got a tour from one of the people involved in its creation, which proved both insightful and the kind of thing you hope never to face yourself as a creative – i.e. when your client  is also an expert in your field, has a vested interest and there are many of them! It’s full of the kinds of features architects love like exposed concrete and structural finishes; open spaces, voids and plenty of natural light and air circulation. Unfortunately, it’s also the kind of thing that tends to get heavily diluted by commercial considerations because it’s financially unviable – the actual usable floor area yield of this building is far below what would be needed to make it a profitable exercise for any developer. Still, I’m glad such proofs of concept exist, if only to showcase some ideas that might make it into more public use. But by far the most impressive thing about the building is the way light plays inside the structure as the sun progresses; though it appears externally solid, it’s internally very porous and light – just not the kind of place for tricophobics, as you’ll see in the second part of the presentation. MT

This set was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70 and my custom SOOC JPEG profile pack.

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Photoessay: Alien geometry

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Every time an architect tries a postmodern, hypermodern, pseudo-alien interpretation of something – I can’t help but think that the opposite is true. By intentionally shedding societal convention and expectation of what a building or space should be, and given a sufficiently liberal client – all that’s left are the limits of the designer’s imagination*. And unless the designer isn’t of this planet – what remains is if anything about as human as things get. I do realise this sounds somewhat unintuitive at best, and downright hypocritical at worst; but ask yourself this: for something to be truly alien it has to be foreign to you. And if it was created by humans – as all buildings on Earth are – it’s still within the realm of our understanding and appreciation. Different, yes; completely alien, no. Somewhat related segue: not having the dictat and expectations of history is not a bad thing at all when it comes to design; I don’t think I’d be able to create a watch to a company expectation or style, for instance. To the creators of the buildings – I applaud the clients for not saying no (or for insisting son something different) and for the architects and contractors to pulling it off. MT

This series was shot some time ago with mostly the Olympus Pen F and various lenses, mostly SOOC camera JPEG. Some Nikon Z7/ 24-70 thrown in for good measure, too.

*And structural engineers’ ability to execute. I respect/ pity those who work for Gehry, Hadid etc.

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Photoessay: Repetition in high key

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Perhaps repetition is the wrong word; riffs on a theme might be more apt. Pay close attention to the sequencing of the images and you’ll notice the key lines flow up down along diagonals that provide continuity between frames; in this way the repetition and structure extends beyond the individual image to the entire set. The tonal bias is mostly high key and cool, but even then there are slight variations to hint at different moods*. I think of it almost as a rising and falling of music that smoothly transitions between passages. Still, the outer covering merely disguises the fact that the underlying structures themselves are the usual rectangular blocks; it’s simply not economical to make something that isn’t regular (not to mention producing spaces that are highly inefficient). These are after all public buildings in the administrative centre of the country; a little decorative facade cladding is fine, but let’s not go too far overboard. MT

*I’m very pleased with the tonality from this series; there’s something about the light openness of the mid and highlight tones that I’ve only been able to achieve with medium format up to this point – but it might also be because I’ve had a strong preference for darker, richer tones. Think oil painting vs watercolour.

This series was shot with a Nikon D3500 and AF-P 70-300 DX VR, and is a mix of SOOC JPEG and edited raw using Photoshop Workflow III.

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Appreciating urbanscapes and structures

Urban geometry, structures and shapes are normally found in MT’s photoessays, but I thought I’d take a jab at it. While MT travels a lot more, I do most of my shooting locally in Kuala Lumpur. I admit I don’t actively seek out heavily compressed shots of buildings and structures but my default lens when shooting on the street is the Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8, which enables decent isolation and compression. From time to time, the visual drama is just so appealing that I have to frame for a tighter perspective. My previous work experience as a Civil Engineer and being involved in the local construction industry also allows me to appreciate architectural design and beauty more, now that I am no longer an engineer. The thing about photography is, we sometimes need to open our eyes and appreciate the beauty around us – regardless of the form it takes.

All images were shot on various cameras and lenses, mostly a variant of an Olympus OM-D with either M.Zuiko 45mm F1.8 or 25mm F1.8 lens.

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