Popular reactions to art

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A few months back, the touring Leonardo Da Vinci reproduction exhibition “Opera Omnia” made a stop in Kuala Lumpur. Whilst obviously not the originals, 17 decent reproductions were made on transparent canvas and backlit to simulate the experience of viewing a well-lit painting as closely as possible. I say ‘decent’ because the method was quite clever, but close up some of the the reproductions clearly lacked the print resolution required to really capture the subtlety of the originals – both Da Vinci’s own extremely fine brushstrokes on areas such as hair, but also the ageing and craquelure that’s a large part of the experience. Obviously, the “3D-ness” of real paint were not reproduced, though I suspect with a little less diffusion on the light used for the initial reproduction, some shadows of surface texture might have been captured. Interestingly, even behind barriers, glass, and at a greater distance – the originals somehow feel much more textural than the reproductions. But I digress – this is not so much about the reproduction method as more general commentary on the public and the way art is seen/appreciated/interpreted in general.

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Photoessay: Nighthawk

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I think it’s very difficult to be in the US and not subconsciously influenced by Hopper, especially when walking around Manhattan; little vignettes rear their head and intrude into your field of view. One is powerless to do anything but raise the camera, and hit the button. Repeatedly. Then put your own twist and context on it, and try to parse it in a modern context. It’s actually quite easy to see where the painters of the era got their inspiration. Despite being painted nearly a century ago…it seems the mood hasn’t changed that much – or at least at the time these were shot, pre-COVID, that was the feeling I got. As with all of these things, I wish I’d had more time…what you see is but the briefest impression of a transient. MT

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

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Photoessay: Mobile sketchbook

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On the back of the previous post, I realize I haven’t posted anything from my smartphone in a while – oddly, it isn’t because I haven’t been using it; it’s because its role keeps changing for me, from a curiosity and article of discipline (enforcing seeing and shot discipline completely independently of hardware) to an object of convenience, to a document copier, and now on to a visual sketchbook of sorts. I know I tried this already with the Pen F; that turned out be treated as a more serious photography tool which has since converged around the Z7 or D3500, leaving a hole for something for me to experiment with – and specifically, one with the extended DOF of a smaller sensor. There’s sadly no 100mm+ perspective option, but careful positioning and composition means the 56mm module renders more compressed than you might think. A good photographer should be able to work within and around limitations and not make excuses and all that… MT

Shot with an iPhone XS Max, no processing.

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OpEd: a disrupted future

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The current state of the world is a bleak but let’s be honest, unsurprising one. We have a disease to which nobody has any natural immunity; it is easily transmitted and highly infectious but not lethal enough to break the chain of transmission by itself (by killing off its hosts, like say Ebola or Marburg – both of which tend not to spread because there are no carriers left). In the past, the chain was broken by community isolation; travel was difficult or expensive and few went – certainly not if you were sick. Now, it seems everybody is a tourist – to the point that the lack of tourism probably has a bigger economic impact on most countries than domestic market shutdowns. Like most people around the world, I’m stuck at home on lockdown at least until the end of this month; tomorrow our (unelected*) government decides if we continue for longer or not. Over the past two weeks, I’ve had a lot of thinking time as there hasn’t been a whole lot to do between not being able to go out to photograph and the supply chain for the watch industry shutting down and everything effectively being on hold. Let’s examine a few scenarios and plan accordingly…

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Photoessay: Beached

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Take a visual holiday – a warm, tranquil, high-key break from the usual dense wimmelbild I prefer. Enjoy the varied colours of clouds and sky as they progress through the day. I could probably have shot more, but seen less. I could probably have brought better and more hardware, and felt constrained and less inclined to experiment. I could have not shot at all and just used my phone. But it’s impossible to deny still being a photographer and feeling more comfortable with than without; knowing that even if you’re mentally in switched off mode, you at least still have the option. The regular bustle is far away in the distance. And sometimes, what you produce reflects your mood – and that can be pleasingly refreshing. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D3500, kit lenses and processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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The concept of ‘visual weight’

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Heavy, but with light inside bits. Translation: transparency

I keep getting asked about this, and then remember I’d already covered it. Here goes the gentle reminder!

We acknowledge that every medium of expression has its strengths and limitations relative to others. Yet our basis for discussion and understanding of concepts and ideas is very much a written/spoken language-based one, this remains our benchmark – more so when the concepts become more complex and less intuitive – or the opposite, so simple and basic they’re entirely intuitive and not at all logical. There are of course severe limitations of language when it comes to describing the visual properties of expression and composition, yet it’s usually easy for us to see when something isn’t quite right. Why, how, and what do proportions, weight, balance, composition and aesthetics have to do with each other? Is there a somewhat more objective way to handle these concepts? I’m not certain, but today were going to try.

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Photoessay: Window seat IV

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Continued from the previous series of Window Seat photoessays…

Sometimes you get extremely lucky on a single round trip – and one of short duration on a budget airline, no less! I don’t think I’ve ever had this high a yield on a total flying time of about six hours before – at least not when the purpose of the flight wasn’t photography and I wasn’t able to direct the pilot. Most of what made the images interesting was the variety of weather conditions; no doubt because we were flying during monsoon season (which could itself be amply felt) with the heat and humidity required to create spectacularly dense/large clouds quickly, and the winds to whip them up into spectacularly interesting formations. For some of the ground locations – such as the lake that looks like a section through a brain – I can only imagine how much more spectacular they might have been at the right time of day (possibly at the expense of the clouds). It always pays to pick a window seat!

This series was shot with a Nikon D3500 and processed with Workflow III.

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The photographer as philosopher

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Some time ago, I was exchanging emails with a reader who posed an interesting thought which has stuck with me since and definitely bears further examination (and I paraphrase to retain context): Where does the work of a photographer begin and end? Have we partially taken over the job of philosophers to interpret the world?

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Photoessay: Window seat III

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Continued from the previous series of Window Seat photoessays…

I’ve attempted to sequence these in some semblance of causal plausibility, but honestly – there’s no way one could do that unless the images were from the same flight (which these weren’t, but they were from the same continuous trip). As always, with these things – sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you don’t; I had one flight recently that ended my blank streak (seat with no window or awkwardly positioned one; seat with dirty scratched glass but great light; seat with great window but clouds and rain; night flights; etc.) and it seemed that got things flowing again. I’ll say one thing though – repeated experiences with aircraft that have electronic/ LCD-dimming shades have left me with a preference for plain windows; you just can’t shoot through those things because somehow everything lands up as though smeared with vaseline. Oh how I wish for a chance to shoot through one of those 30×20″ Gulfstream windows… 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: 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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