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
What I’ve always found amazing is how completely inconspicuous and transparent mobile phones are. They’ve become such an ubiquitous part of daily life that they’re not noticed; like hats in the 20s and 30s. Not having one is the exception. Surprisingly, I’ve also found that aiming your phone at something to take a picture – complete with awkward stance, delicate ‘I’m-going-to-drop-this-thing-becuase-the-ergonomics-are-bad’ finger poses and device held at arms’ length – is completely ignored even though it’s a lot more obvious than using a camera discretely. Have we learned to filter it out during the few short years of mobile photography? Evidently so. I’ve gone from seeing a cameraphone as completely useless to a curiosity and masochistic challenge to an interestingly stealthy way of observing the world: it has properties that cannot be replicated by other cameras, which in turn result in fairly unique images. First of course is ubiquity and stealth; second is silence; third are generally fast/intuitive interfaces (tap to focus, expose AND shoot!). You can get in close and not be seen. Or be seen and nobody feels intimidated, at least in my experience. I find this odd since you’re far more likely to post on FB with your iPhone than your 4×5… In any case, I present today a series of what I’d think of as observations – both as observer, and observed, and an observer observing the observers. Enjoy. MT
I honestly have no idea how many times I’ve posted images from KL. It might be 56 or 30 or 128. I don’t think it matters, anyway. I find quality of vision, and the ability to see, follows a bit of a camel hump: you need some time in a place in order to not be surprised and enraptured by every little thing that breaks your version of normality; a little objectivity and distance helps with quality. A bit more time, and you’re comfortable enough to explore, and have found things off the beaten path to the casual visitor; too much time and you’re jaded. The bigger the city, the longer this takes; but for a relatively small metropolis like the one I live in, that’s not very long at all.
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t shoot that much street photography by either time or output; it just appears that way because a lot of the work I do can’t be published for some time (or at all) due to client embargoes; and by the time I can make it public, I’ve honestly just forgotten or realized that the shoot was so rushed that I didn’t get a chance to shoot any ‘making of’ b-roll. Hence the large quantity of street photography. By a similar token, I don’t believe in a conventional definition of street photography; I think of it as something on the documentary spectrum but towards the end where you don’t have a set objective or assignment, and just record what you see. In some ways, that makes it more difficult because you have to make or interpret your own story from a bunch of usually discordant pieces.
The continuation and completion of the previous photoessay.
It occurs to me I never addressed why these images were presented as monochrome rather than color – Australia has wonderfully intense blue skies (I suspect this has something to do with the ozone layer, or lack of it at those latitudes) which in turn produce extremely intense colours. Personally, and I suspect also for a lot of other people, monochrome images are associated with a sort of timeless quality; I don’t – and didn’t – want the impressions to be affected by my current color choices and preferences. It’s one of the reasons we associate certain color palettes with certain eras in history – think of the 1960s and 1970s, or late 1980s, for instance; unfortunately I suspect the current period is going to be defined by over filtering, low-fi and HDR. The least I can do is spare my subjects from that…
This photoessay is the first part of my monochrome work from the Melbourne workshop in March; some of my students may recognise the images. I’ve been criticised in the past for not getting ‘close enough’ for my images to qualify as street photography, so I’m not going to claim it as such even though there’s no strict definition of the genre to begin with. Rather, it continues a theme I’ve been exploring for the past couple of years: the exploration of people in their environment, and the idea of modern man in context as a species as opposed to an individual. Perhaps I should take up social anthropology in my spare time…
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.
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.
Today’s photoessay continues my exploration of NYC’s streets in black and white. Perhaps I’m being masochist in continuing this series after the dissenting opinions expressed in the comments in Part one (found here) – but once again, photography is subjective interpretation and each observer has their own views and preferences. I happen to like the precision and perfection others call ‘clinical soullessness’ – and I’d argue that the lack of imperfection is a style and skill of its own; consistently being able to find ‘perfect moments’ in a sea of uncontrolled chaos is extremely difficult indeed – which anybody would know if they’ve tried it. Enjoy. MT
Given how ingrained certain locations are in the popular photographic consciousness due to heavy presentation in a particular style by multiple photographers – Paris and NYC in black and white of course come to mind – I think it’s possible to do one of two things: either avoid that style altogether and try to find your own, or explore a little in the genre and see what falls out. I had a chance to try both the last time I was in New York; to be honest, I found B&W with moderate contrast to suit the timeless feel of the location a bit better – as opposed to expressing the fleetingly temporal nature of life. There’s of course no right or wrong. (My attempt at individual style can be found here, in the NYC cinematics photoessay.)