I recently was commissioned to produce a status update of sorts and small vignettes of documentary covering work in progress for the construction of the HK-Guangzhou-Shenzhen high speed rail link. The vast majority of the Hong Kong portion of this lies underground, which makes sense given both the lack of space and need to have a terminus somewhere centrally downtown. Fortunately, Hong Kong’s underlying geology is very friendly to tunnelling – I’ve always had the impression a good chunk of the island and Kowloon peninsula is really hollowed out given the number of subways, tunnels, malls and utilities hidden underground.
I thought I’d present this set a little differently, in the vein of variations on a theme: one with, one without man, in similar situations. They might or might not have been the same subject, they but I think each pair of images is somewhat interchangeable depending on the end use intent – sometimes, you want the people, sometimes, you don’t. Each image is of course optimised for the subjects that did eventually get included – compositionally and presentation-wise. You cannot simply add or remove one element and expect the rest of the composition to remain balanced. Construction is a messy but never ending and necessary business so long as the needs of the people keep changing; whilst some images may look familiar, they’re part of a very long term and ongoing project for the same client. One of the challenges during assignments like this is to keep a level of consistency of visual style, but at the same time with little riffs and variations on it to stop the material from becoming repetitive or boring – more so when you’re dealing with the same subject that’s changing at at relatively slow pace because of the scale of the project. Not easy, but very rewarding…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 found myself back in the tunnels under Hong Kong again a couple of months ago. I’d previously visited both locations in a much less complete state – the Central Wanchai Bypass was a trench with a lot of bracing holding the seawall at bay, and Whampoa MTR station was a bare tunnel with no platform and no liners – just a large cavern. The former is now a neatly lined tunnel and roadway awaiting the final finishing touches for ventilation, M&E ducting and lighting; most of this portion of the contract has been or is about to be handed over to the next contract to be finished. The station is now in pretty much recognisable form – even the information counters and ticket kiosks are in, though without their final cladding and not fully cleaned up. At this point you could certainly imagine rush hour passing through, though – even if the work dust everywhere gives things a slightly post-apocalyptic feel. From an execution/ equipment standpoint, I think this assignment was tougher than my first documentary assignment with the H system – Thaipusam 2016 – mainly because the brief was tighter, light levels much lower in some places, and frequently the subjects more conscious of being photographed. For some odd reason, it was much easier to photograph religious festival participants…
One from the archives for today – I thought I’d posted this a long time ago, but turns out it sat in the ‘draft posts’ folder. Oops!
Inspiration begets inspiration. At least that’s my own theory of creativity. If you’re in photographically inspiring surroundings, it’s unquestionably easier to make an interesting image than otherwise – or at very least feel that you’ve got far more possibilities to hand. There are some assignments where one must fall back onto professionalism and the motto of the US postal service* to get the job done, but then we also have those where you couldn’t stop shooting even if it were forbidden. This assignment was most certainly the latter, and appropriate given the subject was the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s new library space – which in itself is presumably meant to be inspiring to its students.
*Come rain, come shine, dogs be damned etc.
This series contains more images from an unusual but highly rewarding assignment last year – documenting the work of landscape architect Charles Jencks, both at the Garden of Cosmic Speculation and the Crawick Multiverse. Both of these are cosmologically-inspired ‘built landscapes’ with features that reference various features of our universe, and best appreciated with time (no pun intended) – it can take some walking not just to see everything, but to get a feel for how the various elements come together and relate to each other. This was one of those rare assignments with an open brief – both intimidating and extremely satisfying at the same time because of potential scope and expectations. Fortunately, all went well. Today’s photoessay focuses on sculpted curves in the Garden of Cosmic Speculation. Note that the changing hues of grass aren’t due to profiling or color mismatches – it was shot over a couple of days and was quite windy (as you can see from the sole long exposure) and light changed fast with the flow of clouds as a result. It isn’t the same as walking through it, but that’s not physically possible for most of us – enjoy, and bonus points if you can spot the smile in the landscape! MT
Today’s images are from a recent shoot – and shakedown test – of my recently acquired Hasselblad H5D-50C and some other bits of new lighting equipment. The brief: film noir. The model is a local actress. Those of you who frequent my site will know that portraiture – especially of the posed and lit kind – is not something I do often (but at the same time, I do more of it than you might think) mainly because it’s somewhat outside my usual focus of corporate documentary and architecture/ interiors. That said, when everything comes together it can be rather satisfying; I’ve always viewed portraiture as a conversation during which you might just happen to have the lights set up and a camera handy – very few people are aware of the way they look, body position etc. to a degree that they can control it to produce a desired result. It’s much easier to talk to your subject and try to elicit the desired responses without them quite being fully aware of it – that way, the results turn out natural, too.
I’m presenting the second part of the Construction photoessay today – here, the individuals slowly recede into the context of the greater project and become important contributing parts of the whole. The ‘context’ is so large it often overwhelms everything else – I personally find the coordination part of the work amazing because once you’re on site, it’s very easy to get lost in the details. Large prints would of course work best to show the scale of many of these developments, but there are still limitations to the internet 🙂 [Read more…]
This series of images comes from my body of work from the last year-plus for client Chun Wo in Hong Kong; they are the largest local construction company and are mainly involved in large infrastructure projects, including the airport and Central-Wanchai bypass that spans most of the prime waterfront. As many of you will have seen from previous photoessays and posts, my brief with them is an ongoing on that covers several aspects: 1) documenting work in progress in the greater context of Hong Kong, as a historical record; 2) documenting and celebrating the workers who make it all possible; 3) recording the finished projects. Earlier in the year, we held a successful charity exhibition at the Hong Kong Arts Center which showcased a limited selection of the work – something like ~100 out of about 1,500 images delivered. I’ve been asked many times if we could share some of those images online for those who weren’t able to make it in person, so here we are. [Read more…]
In the second half of 2014, I was hired for a rather unusual documentary assignment. Amongst very many other things, the German Lutheran Church runs an international mission for seafarers around the world, with various stations and representative pastors in major ports. For their 2014 annual report (yes, I know it’s 2015 – I just haven’t had a chance to write and post up til now), they decided to produce a story on this as one of their featured activities. Even more unusually, rather than choosing a major home port such as Hamburg, the story was focused on Asia – the port of Singapore, to be specific. It’s not too far from Kuala Lumpur, so I got on an airplane. The report has obviously now been published, and I’m free to post the write up.