Big city, bright lights, teeming crowds…yet the quest for individuality is perhaps stronger than ever. Yet we’re social creatures, so we want to fit in. But where? How? Here more than ever, people felt transient, subservient, temporary. Native is not native and you’re on the way somewhere else. The stage stays; the actors change. Here more than ever, I’ve always felt like I was just passing through – even the times where I was based here for months. MT
My biggest challenge with projects and assignments of this scale is always adequately capturing them and conveying that scale – too wide or too far away, and you lose identifiable detail; too close and you don’t get a feeling for the immensity. There’s no way you can keep an identifiable and isolated human figure in the shot and show the whole extent of a 3km+ long project; even with a silly-sized print from a camera of extremely high resolution. This is where the narrative comes into strength, but also poses challenges. It’s much easier to give a complete impression of something by detailing critical parts; however, with the narrative in mind, you’ll find that there are certain ‘filler’ images required for continuity that might not necessarily stand on their own – and similarly, certain hero shots just don’t flow with the rest of the sequence. This of course leads to a very focused curation, which may well change massively should the intended message also change.
I came away from Porto with a bit of strange feeling about Porto. From a distance, and on the opposite bank of the Douro, the old town looks charming and quaint, with a vibrant revival immediately around you. The sun is shining, the tourists are enjoying their wine tastings, and the locals are eager to please. Go back over, however, and a cloud seems to settle; edifices that appeared charmingly quaint are really decaying very badly and somewhere between neglected and derelict. There are few locals left, and those who are are very elderly and not in much better shape than the buildings. Smiles are absent. Tourists are tolerated or seen as targets. It is altogether a very different Porto from The Other Side. It seemed to me that most of the locals inhabited a sort of zone between the two – a monotonous grey transience between the two states of decay and forced tourist joviality. They lived lives subservient to their environment and took what little joy where they could find it – a drink here, a smoke there, a bit of sun when it showed. It honestly felt a bit sad. These are the impressions I left with of life in Porto. MT
As usual, it is impossible not to be in a place like Tokyo and do at least some street photography; the very difference in the way people act and the things they do already attracts our attention because it breaks the pattern which we’re used to seeing. Furthermore, Japan’s tolerance for photography in general as a society and the close proximity in which people usually find themselves makes things even easier. It is however impossible to avoid people on phones: I still think this is the ‘hat-and-newspaper’ of the 21st century; just as life-documenting photographers eighty years ago could not avoid that cliche – which now seems quaint to us – we are locked into the era of the cellphone. It is harder to find somebody not using one. I’ve always said the best street work should be pretty close to documentary in nature, though much more personal in significance. If phones are the nature of reality today, so be it. That of course doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty else going on. I did get a feeling of longing and melancholy I didn’t observe the last time I was there; the usual conspicuous isolation was even stronger on this visit. A sign of the times for society, perhaps? MT
This series was shot with a Leica Q 116, Nikon D5500 and 55-200/4-5.6 DX VR II, Sony A7RII and Zeiss 2.8/21 Loxia and 1.8/85 Batis lenses and post processed with The Monochrome Masterclass workflow. You can also look over my shoulder at the underlying postprocessing in the Weekly Photoshop Workflow series.
Following on from the previous article on improving the digital B&W workflow process, it’s only fair that I show you some examples. I’ve chosen near-field landscapes – effectively, trees – as the test material, because I’ve always felt that this has been the most difficult subject to capture in a convincingly natural way*.
*Yes, I know, nature is in colour and monochrome images are by definition unnatural, but bear with me here.
Today, we’re taking a little break from the travel-themed images I’ve been posting of late, and return to nature somewhat. I’ve always found something compelling about trees; I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s some deep-rooted part of our subconscious that calls for an occasional visual break from the uniformly geometric concrete we live in, and an embracing of the naturally fractal and chaotic world for a change instead. Judging from the feedback on previous images and photoessays, I’ve also found this to be the case with a lot of other people, too.
In an ideal world, the art of seeing and composition should be independent of one’s surroundings, subjects or location. Or at very least, one should attempt it. Even though it’s almost always easier for us to previsualize compositions when we are in an unfamiliar or new environment – that which is different always stands out the most – it’s good practice to see what can be found closer to home. I like to give myself this challenge on a fairly regular basis to keep things fresh; after all, if you can find a new and compelling image in a very familiar situation, it’s all the more likely you’ll be able to make one when you’re on assignment or travelling.
One of those times where color would actually have been better. The bright blue and red uniforms of the motorbike postmen in this shot stood out well against the gray tarmac…I reached for a camera instinctively, nailed focus and exposure, but didn’t realize I was holding the M-Monochrom instead of the M9-P! Still, the geometry of this shot is its saving grace, I feel.
Today is going to be a busy day. Many people wonder what photographers do in the time they’re not shooting – well, here’s my schedule:
1. Client meetings
2. Test prints from M-Monochrom, 50 APO and D800E for clients, and if I have time, a quick article/ note on the site about relative print quality
3. Have to buy a light, strong, compact tripod in preparation for a trip (did I mention those are all oxymorons?). Tripod choice is another minefield I’ll probably write about at some point.
4. Retouching work for another client
5. Chase payments once Europe wakes up
6. Intersperse with replying email and comments to the site – between the two, I get an average of about 100-150 per day, which eats up a good couple of hours in replies. My laptop keyboard is now mirror smooth!🙂
I think I need an assistant. MT
This is a continuation from an earlier post with one image. The back story is not quite what you’d expect: I was killing time at a culinary academy in Singapore while waiting for one of my classes to start (I was teaching food photography, not cooking, though at some point I’d love to attend a proper cooking course, however, I digress) and happened to notice a building site out of the window. The 6th floor was a great vantage point to get far enough away to see the entire scene, but not so far that you’d miss out the details. Add in that wonderful directional light that comes immediately after rain when clouds just clear and the sun starts poking out (plus the textures and wet reflections) and the light was utterly gorgeous. Colors were still muted, and this was one of those occasions that just screamed ‘B&W’. Just another example of one of those times when you don’t plan to shoot, but somehow an opportunity presents itself – enjoy the results for yourself. On an unrelated note, I’m really loving the square format, too. Or maybe I’m just lazy to turn the little camera sideways. MT
This series shot with a Leica D-Lux 5 Titanium.
Stall owner washing and packing up utensils after the lunch rush, Kuala Lumpur. Down some grimy, dirty, little back alley whose name has been long forgotten by all except those whose lives revolve around there. Beautiful light from the holes in the roof and gaps between the buildings, though.
Leica M-Monochrom, 35/1.4 ASPH FLE. Look out for my full review (in three parts) starting from tomorrow.