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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Social media and photography: how to get it wrong

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It never fails to surprise me at the – let’s be blunt – stupidity of some companies in the age of social media. Let’s say you operate a number of malls in the centre of a large city, in prominent locations with moderately interesting facades. Your objective as a mall operator is obviously to increase traffic through your property so that you can increase rental to your tenants and your own underlying return on capital. You want to encourage people to visit and spend money in every way possible. More than a few studies have shown that people who are happy are more likely to spend money than people who are not. Similarly, people are more likely to spend money in a popular environment than one that is not – part of that is herd mentality, part of that is fear of missing out. You spend money on advertising, promotion and the like. You sponsor photo competitions and go out of your way to be seen as a ‘patron of the arts’. Yet why do you program your guards to a) prevent people from taking photographs anywhere near your property when the subject isn’t even your property but the opposite direction; b) be rude about it, and c) act over real estate and public thoroughfares over which they have no jurisdiction?

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Reportage and medium format: Thaipusam 2016 with a Hasselblad H5D-50C

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Thaipusam is a Big Deal for those involved religiously* – but also quite an amazing experience as an observer. One of, if not the largest of these festivals takes place in a cave temple about 15km outside of Kuala Lumpur every year at the Batu Caves. I’ve photographed the event previously in 2008, 2011 and 2012. This year’s festival happened just a couple of days ago on the 23rd-24th of January, and I went back for the fourth time. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a very special experience even as a non-participant and not really understanding the significance of the ceremony to the believers. There really is some energy there from the sheer number of participants and general positive and hopeful thoughts that are going around at the time.

*Wikipedia does a much better job of explaining it than I can.

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Photoessay: Squeezing blood from a stone

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Arches and blue

There are cities and places that never run out of inspiration or material to photograph because of weather, seasons, light, change, or sheer scale – no matter how many times you go back. Then there are cities and places that you exhaust in a day or two. And others that have hidden depths to plumb. And still others where you have to methodically work through all of the not so nice stuff in the hope that you may eventually luck out with good light and stumble upon some little interesting unknown vignette on the day you happen to be out. Perhaps I’m jaded, but Kuala Lumpur falls into the latter category. Despite being tropical, our weather is mostly overcast and hazy; bright, directional light is rare and lasts only a few hours at most – usually when you’re not in a position to make the most of it.

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Photoessay: Silent in Kuala Lumpur

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Urban environments are characterised by people: creators, masters, users. They are odd when empty simply because they were never intended to be empty. What is left can be whatever you want it to be; sinister, lonely, a mere abstraction of form and color. Sometimes I wonder about the whole creative circle underlying these locations and objects: somebody had to design and make them, and they had to find the inspiration from somewhere else. We then in turn find something of interest in their forms – but probably not what the original creator intended, especially when taken in concert with environment and other unplanned or juxtaposed objects. Or perhaps I’m thinking too much. Make of these what you will…MT

This series was shot over a period of time with a wide variety of hardware and processed with the fine art technique in Making Outstanding Images Ep.5.

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Kuala Lumpur reader meetup – Sat 8 Aug

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I’ll be doing an informal reader meetup for those of you in Kuala Lumpur this Saturday (8 Aug) at 10am, Plan B, Bangsar Village I – feel free to drop by and say hi…MT

Photoessay: From the streets of KL, #72

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Connected isolation

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted any of the more conventional street photography with identifiable individuals. I suppose that’s a consequence of a change of creative direction towards images that are perhaps less literal and more everyman; photographs that can ask a question and make you have cause to contemplate them for a long time without really having an answer. Images that stick tend to be ones that are graphically shocking (could be positive or negative) or those that require some further digestion. Nevertheless, I still do make these images but instead curate them even more heavily than usual; today’s set perhaps more so because they’re made in what is a very familiar environment to me. What’s interesting is that many of these still come from a very small radius of places I’ve covered literally hundreds of times – I suppose that continual change is one of the joys of photography. This set spans some time, and as a result, quite some equipment too – from a first-generation RX100 to the CFV digital back to the D810. Postprocessing was mostly with PS Workflow II. Enjoy! MT

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Photoessay: a different kind of KL cityscape

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Ordered cubism

I personally find one of the most challenging things to do is make compelling and different images in a situation that is a familiar one: your home city, your usual equipment with nothing particularly special or capable of making a distinctive look (or another way of looking at it is a general purpose tool with a very versatile shooting envelope), challenging weather, and to top it off, conditions that are not ideally conducive for creativity*. These were shot during a private workshop as examples; I have to simultaneously apologise to and thank my student at the time: firstly, I felt I could have made better images with a bit more sleep, but the conditions pushed me to really look for something different. In the end, I think this set fit the bill: I am happy because these are images that I have not only not produced in some form or other before, but images that I never conceptualised because I was not looking in those places either – even though it wasn’t my first time there. Enjoy! MT

*Prolonged lack of sleep from a newborn and a small apartment full of relatives.

This series was shot with a Nikon D810 and 24-120/4 VR, which is probably about as flexible as you can get.

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Photoessay: From the streets of Kuala Lumpur, part 57

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Reminiscences of the last supper

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.

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On Assignment: the TBM breakthrough

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Today’s post is about a job I did at the start of January – the world’s premier maker of tunnel-boring machines, Herrenknecht (there are actually quite a surprising number) hired me to document the operation and breakthrough of their first variable-density boring machine*, which happened to be at work underneath Kuala Lumpur as part of the greater Klang Valley subway/ mass transit project. Up til this point, we have a pretty pathetic train system and monorail that doesn’t cover more than 3-4km; we don’t have a unified public transport system which combine with poor traffic management creates legendary jams**.

*Kuala Lumpur has a mix of rock and clay underneath it; you need a special machine to bore through both simultaneously – the machines for rock are too slow with clay and it also clogs the outlet ducting, and the machines for clay simply won’t cut rock.

**In the past, it has taken me up to 2 hours to travel the 1.5km from home to office at the wrong time. If you’re wondering why I didn’t just walk, try doing that in 35 C heat, 80+% humidity and the business suits that you’re expected to wear – not that clothes mean you’re any more or less competent at doing an office job…

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