Photoessay: Alien geometry

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Every time an architect tries a postmodern, hypermodern, pseudo-alien interpretation of something – I can’t help but think that the opposite is true. By intentionally shedding societal convention and expectation of what a building or space should be, and given a sufficiently liberal client – all that’s left are the limits of the designer’s imagination*. And unless the designer isn’t of this planet – what remains is if anything about as human as things get. I do realise this sounds somewhat unintuitive at best, and downright hypocritical at worst; but ask yourself this: for something to be truly alien it has to be foreign to you. And if it was created by humans – as all buildings on Earth are – it’s still within the realm of our understanding and appreciation. Different, yes; completely alien, no. Somewhat related segue: not having the dictat and expectations of history is not a bad thing at all when it comes to design; I don’t think I’d be able to create a watch to a company expectation or style, for instance. To the creators of the buildings – I applaud the clients for not saying no (or for insisting son something different) and for the architects and contractors to pulling it off. MT

This series was shot some time ago with mostly the Olympus Pen F and various lenses, mostly SOOC camera JPEG. Some Nikon Z7/ 24-70 thrown in for good measure, too.

*And structural engineers’ ability to execute. I respect/ pity those who work for Gehry, Hadid etc.

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Photoessay: Repetition in high key

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Perhaps repetition is the wrong word; riffs on a theme might be more apt. Pay close attention to the sequencing of the images and you’ll notice the key lines flow up down along diagonals that provide continuity between frames; in this way the repetition and structure extends beyond the individual image to the entire set. The tonal bias is mostly high key and cool, but even then there are slight variations to hint at different moods*. I think of it almost as a rising and falling of music that smoothly transitions between passages. Still, the outer covering merely disguises the fact that the underlying structures themselves are the usual rectangular blocks; it’s simply not economical to make something that isn’t regular (not to mention producing spaces that are highly inefficient). These are after all public buildings in the administrative centre of the country; a little decorative facade cladding is fine, but let’s not go too far overboard. MT

*I’m very pleased with the tonality from this series; there’s something about the light openness of the mid and highlight tones that I’ve only been able to achieve with medium format up to this point – but it might also be because I’ve had a strong preference for darker, richer tones. Think oil painting vs watercolour.

This series was shot with a Nikon D3500 and AF-P 70-300 DX VR, and is a mix of SOOC JPEG and edited raw using Photoshop Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Growing up

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I have come to the conclusion that four year olds are mostly like uninhibited adults. At least mine seems to be; I suppose their actions make sense in their minds with their limited understanding of the world, and when you disagree – there will be hell to pay because there is no way anything could possibly be different to how they have imagined. (Arguably, this is the same with a lot of supposedly fully grown adults I have to deal with, too.) There are moments when they are remarkably mature and self-sufficient; there are others when we are reminded that they sleep the sleep of innocents and don’t carry any of the worries of reality. They are a bundle of nerves and listen almost solely to the lizard brain. There is no self control and that leaves parents torn between the short term pain of trying to impose it, and the long term gain of raising a person who doesn’t bang tables to get their way. Just looking at these images has driven home though how much she’s matured over the past year, though she probably won’t be self-sufficient for another 15 years or more – and getting seemingly longer with every generation. To think there are entire species whose lifespans are much shorter than the past four years; and intelligent ones who are fully mature and ‘adult’ after just one or two years. We humans are probably the only species with the luxury to explore and pursue something higher up the pyramid of needs than mere sustenance and survival – we should not waste it on pointless diversions… MT

Shot over the last year, mostly with the Nikon Z7 and my custom SOOC JPEG profiles.

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On Assignment photoessay: Automated building

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Some time back, I was given a rather interesting commission by a large local industrial conglomerate: to photograph their automated building facility. The factory uses an automated system to lay up wall, floor and ceiling units for modular buildings according to plan; these precast slabs are then simply installed on site, with reinforcement, connections, conduits for piping and electricals etc. all laid up and ready to go. The surfaces are finished during the production process, and unlike cast in place or brick-types, do not require additional plaster or skimming for a very consistent and precise finish. Interestingly, I was told that below a certain scale this is a more expensive process for building than traditional manual labor, but the overall quality is much higher (and it begins to make sense for large developments). From a photographic standpoint, the completed slab stockyard was very enjoyable – no end of shadows/ geometries/ strong colors/ details and all of the things that make for interesting vignettes and artistic experimentation; the factory was much more challenging due to the lighting.

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Photoessay: Of canopies and curves

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There’s a collection of rather strange but interesting architecture within the Lake Gardens in Kuala Lumpur; it was built at different times but is surprisingly coherent. None of it is used much, but at least it’s visually interesting. I presume it must be intentional that the curves somewhat mirror the canopies of the trees; it would be hard to think of any other reason to make construction this difficult (especially in a country not known for either exacting standards or quality builders). Can’t be good for the trees though, since the enclosed ones don’t seem to be doing quite as well as those out in the open. I had a sense of deja vu walking through here – the forms are oddly reminiscent of The Garden of Cosmic Speculation but without the massive earthworks, or the underlying cosmological references. Still, as a respite from the functionally boring boxes popular here, I’m not complaining. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D3500 and AF-P 10-20/4.5-5.6 DX VR, and post processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Photoessay: Colorlumpur

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Today, a slight disjointed set of wimmelbild-esque urban vignettes. I’m pretty sure at a subconscious level my attraction to these scenes was the variety of textures present in each; they also happened to make a good variety of test subjects in my usual preferred kind of hard light to to see if I’d managed to match the Z7’s SOOC JPEG curve tuning to the ‘normal’ workflow I’ve used up to this point. I think a little more work might be required to fine tune things, but there’s something quite attractive about how the lower midtones are being handled; the tonal richness is there. It was also a rare opportunity to shoot the old part Kuala Lumpur in this kind of light – I find it really makes you look at the city in a different way, especially if you can manage to disconnect a little and pretend you’re somewhere completely new. Turns out it isn’t that difficult to do if you haven’t been to this part of town in six months… MT

This series was shot with mostly a Nikon Z7, AF-S 70-200/4 VR and my color SOOC profile; there are a few other singles from other cameras I had sitting around that I could never quite coherently place in a set until now. Those were processed with Photoshop Workflow III.

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Photoessay: A Japanese puzzle

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The precision with which Japanese cities come together has always felt like akin to a puzzle with a thousand architects – though things appear chaotic at first, there is a sense of underlying deliberation and precision probably borne from just how clean each individual element tends to be, and how neatly it slots into place whilst respecting the space of its surrounding neighbours. Perhaps it is a metaphor for Japanese society in a nutshell – which makes sense, given cities are a reflection of their inhabitants (and unfortunately this isn’t always a good thing). I have always been drawn to wimmelbild-type scenes like this in any city as they feel to capture a good sense of the essence and mood of a city without resorting to using distinctive landmarks for identification – if done well, you should know where you are without having to search for street signs… MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D850, 24-120VR and processed with Photoshop Workflow III – the images predate the custom presets, though these would have worked fine, too.

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Photoessay: Structured

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As the the title suggests, the images in today’s post were curated by pattern, spatial frequency and something that probably has a formal architectural name that I’m not aware of – but tend to think of as ‘orders of complexity’. We got from rectangles to triangles and tetrahedrals; uniform to recursive; compound straight shapes to arcs and arches and on to organic forms. These forms take on a rhythm and get more complex, but then distill and simplify down into something more focused and massive. In a way, it feels a lot like the thought process behind designing a watch…

This series shot with a Nikon D3500, AF-P 10-20 DX VR, AF-P 18-55 DX VR II, AF-P 70-300 DX VR. SOOC JPEG.

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On-Assignment photoessay: Welders

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I am pathologically attracted to welding. It’s the photographers’ analog to a moth being drawn to a flame, or in this case either an oxyacetylene torch or plasma arc. My theory is that it has to do with a) light and b) unusual light. How often do you see somebody focusing intently on what is essentially a continuously powered, almost unidirectional flash? You can’t help but look. The radiating shadows created by that harsh light create all sorts of leading lines that force your eyes to the source: man and fire. It’s visually epic in a Metropolis sort of way; the Rocketman-esque helmets do nothing to detract from this, making the whole thing simply impossible to turn away from. It’s probably the reason my eyes have floaters, and some of my sensors have burn marks. But in monochrome it also tells a timeless story of man’s desire to build something great from the sum of much lesser components. And for nothing if that reason, we must bear witness to these things coming to life. MT

Shot over a very long period of time over a large number of construction and heavy engineering assignments, with various hardware from 6×6 film to micro 4/3 to MF digital and everything in between…

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Photoessay: At the food trucks, under the power lines

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I realise this is an exceptionally strange title for a post; almost whimsically offbeat Murakami in flavour. But sometimes you go to try something different for diner, and come back with a full memory card instead of a full stomach. Something about the atmosphere struck me as poignant: a little sad and wannabe hip, but still with distant threads of aspiration and hope. (I suspect the reason for this is as with everything, Malaysia is late to the party: we criticise anything new that’s of local origins, but will be the second people to jump onto a hot overseas trend – go figure.) Mostly though, there are a lot of vignettes of waiting and going through the motions – what are the people waiting for, I wondered? What epiphanies were they hoping would come? Perhaps the enjoyment promised by social media wasn’t quite up to expectations, but everybody wondered if it was just them who didn’t ‘get it’. Ironically, the only people who actually seemed to be really having fun in that group were the two young kids dancing amongst the milling adults…MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7 and 50/1.8 S. SOOC JPEG using my custom profiles, available here.

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