Photoessay: A magic hour, part I

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A little while back, between meetings and a lull in the protests during elections…I found a magic hour early by the Kowloon side of the harbour. Almost completely absent of people, but with a clear, intense blue sky and strongly directional light that highlighted the geometric, abstract forms of the buildings around the Space Museum, Cultural Centre and Museum of Art. It felt like wandering around a giant child’s building blocks. Compositionally, each became an exercise in pure spatial balance; I didn’t see window or roof or wall so much as shapes of a certain visual weight that needed to be offset by other spatially opposed shapes of equal prominence. I felt them best presented in the midcentury, high-contrast monochrome style that Brasilia was first photographed in; the forms had the same sort of monumental weight tempered by idealist curves. Curiously, though I’d passed this location many times on my countless visits to Hong Kong, this is actually the first time I’d had the opportunity and the light to shoot here. I have to say it exceeded my expectations – and yielded more than just geometry, as you’ll see in part II… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, the Z 16-50 DX pancake and my custom SOOC picture controls.

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Photoessay: Quotidian objects, in monochrome

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There is nothing special about any of the subjects in today’s images. This is deliberate. Moreover, one recurring theme – my dining table and chairs – I see every day. On the back of the last post, the challenge comes in noticing something new in the quotidian; to that end, every single one of these subjects I’ve seen at least once, more likely dozens of times – or more. The images were shot at different times, in different moods, with different light, and different hardware; what remains consistent are my stylistic choices. I have many images of these subjects with different presentations; but the dominant style tends to be the one shown in this post: contrasty, monochrome, and graphic – but with a little delicacy in texture. They were curated after the fact to both an overarching concept, and a style – not shot specifically with an idea in mind. Though I can and have worked both to a brief and curated to a brief – I prefer the latter because I feel it gives me more room the explore and find the best presentation for the subject, even if I tend towards a single presentation style anyway. MT

This series was shot with mostly a D3500 and kit lens, SOOC JPEG with some Pen F, RX0M2 and iPhone thrown in for variety.

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Photoessay: Diagonal non-sequitur

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Trying something a little different today: a series of images that are linked thematically by type of light and overall presentation, but have little to nothing to do with each other subject-wise. It is thus a logical non-sequitur but not a visual one; the intention is for the audience to get almost lulled into a sense of rhythmic monotony until you realise the subjects, their sizes/scales and even physical layouts are wildly different. I realise this is completely at odds with any traditional curator logic, but this particular group of images had been sitting in my posting folder for so long challenging me to find a way to use them that I somehow overlooked their core similarities in visual style. MT

This series was shot mostly with a Nikon Z7 with custom SOOC JPEG profiles, or Nikon D3500.

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Photoessay: Slanted

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A series of rises and falls today; topology and mountaineering in urban shadow. An energetic, driving baseline as opposed to something more melodic; think EDM over Mozart (not that I listen to either, to be honest). The beat links the frames together across subject and scale, with occasional visual riffs and explorations of a motif but sticking with this same theme. I’ve probably said this somewhere before, but photography (and any visual art) have always been like music to me; a landscape of texture focused one of our senses. Crucially, both have limitations – music is temporal and one-way only; photography has only two dimensions. But both also have the ability to effect a presentation that transcends the limitations of reality by encouraging us to suspend disbelief and just appreciate what’s put in front of us; we can only see what we are shown. MT

This set was mostly shot with a Nikon D3500, 18-55 kit and SOOC JPEG, with a guest appearance from the Z7 and Pen-F.

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Photoessay: Quotidian for some

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Where I live, making images that are vignetted observations of life in the style presented today is very difficult for one simple reason: people tend not to walk much or use public transport; the former because it’s just too damn hot and society still expects you to wear a suit (and as a consequence, the whole city isn’t very pedestrian friendly in the first place), and the latter because it doesn’t really exist outside of a small network. You land up with a lot of cars and not much human interaction – and thus nothing much to photograph. It’s for this reason that whenever I travel to a place where there’s a lot of human life at street level – I tend to gorge myself photographically and amass a lot of material in a very short space of time. This reptilian approach to photography is not intentional but simply a consequence of circumstance. It does also have the happy coincidence of forcing one to break creative anxiety – every situation is constant reminder that your expectations are probably invalid, and to always be open to serendipity. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7 and 24-70/4 S, with my custom SOOC camera JPEG picture controls available here.

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On-assignment photoessay: Monolithic

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There’s something about the visual gravity only the deepest registers the monochrome tonal scale can provide; those zones that make or break a good printer and convey tonal richness and texture. Whilst such work tends to be more the preserve of editorial and fine art photography and less so in commercial, I can’t help myself from seeing such subjects during the course of a cleaner, higher key commercial assignment. There are always structural and physical elements of such massiveness as require these tonal registers to do them justice; I shoot and file them away for later personal satisfaction. Overcast weather may be the bane of most commercial available light work, but it matters not a bit in this case. This particular set is the curation of several assignments; there’s a deliberate change in pace between the images where the monolithic element may be the entire frame, or just a small (but visually heavy) part of it. Or it may be an otherwise light-coloured subject but still somehow that sort of chalky, textured grey… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, D850, 24-120/4 VR, 70-200/4 VR. No post processing, just the monochrome picture control from the Z7/D850 profile pack…

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Photoessay: Long goodbye

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Something a little different today: curated over a period of time into a narrative area whole bunch of images that actually have little to no actual causality. Rather these are an example of how you can stitch a storyline together by implication alone, and both the power (and misleading danger) of photojournalism with its implicit veracity. That said, I think of today as a series of departures and moving-ons; a mix of melancholy, reminiscence and optimism that tomorrow will be a better day. There is enough ambiguity for you, the audience, to decide how you want to feel. The end can also be the beginning. MT

Shot over a long period of time with a wide variety of hardware.

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Photoessay: hard line

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Great light and crazy architecture one morning in Tokyo – best to make the most of it. I thought of hitting multiple destinations, but the truth is anybody who’s been to Tokyo will know there’s so much of interest architecturally everywhere that it doesn’t really matter where you go. I suspect this is because underlying land costs in Tokyo are so high that anything you put up on the site will be (relatively) cheap in comparison; unlike in other parts of the world where construction is equal to or greater than the real estate. Even straightforward buildings have a personification of that Japanese obsession for imperfection, and as a result usually sport one or more very nice details to break pattern. Okay, I just can’t help myself: I like graphic subjects. MT

With the exception of one image (D850), this series was shot with a Nikon Z7 and 24-70/4 S. No post processing, just the monochrome picture control from the Z7/D850 profile pack…

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Photoessay: Life, observer and observed

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Alternative title: observing people observing the world. Actually, I feel about as detached from these images as the subjects feel detached from their surroundings. In a strange way I feel this coldness of mood works quite well for the given subject matter and creative intent; on top of that, color would have inevitably suggested moods or emotions that are neither appropriate nor sufficiently sangfroid. Actually, on second curation – I can’t help but see can alternative interpretation in a lot of situations. Missing is that feeling of intense focus implied by observation; rather there’s just a sort of blank mechanised obliviousness. This is probably not helped by the predominantly low key tonal palette; I’ve always liked that possibility of ambiguity and mystery suggested by it (regular readers will probably notice a distinct lack of high key monochrome here) – eyes you can’t see tend to mask the thoughts of the individual. MT

Shot over a period of time with a Nikon Z7, Olympus Pen F and various lenses; images are SOOC JPEG using my Nikon Z7 picture control pack, or specific Pen F settings.

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Photoessay: Urban form

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Just as the previous photoessay focused on the distilled shapes and forms of the organic, today’s does the same for the inorganic. Hard shadows play off hard lines and angles and deep blacks create a sense of spatial discontinuity that turns the unknown into a solid anchor, intentionally inverting perception. Sorry, sometimes I forget I’m not writing for a society art critique. Most of the time, I just like the shapes. MT

This series was shot with the Nikon Z7 and contains SOOC JPEG images using my custom Picture Controls, available here. Similar results are available with other cameras by following the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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