I’ve often thought that this is perhaps both the easiest and hardest subject to shoot, and shoot well. It’s also the most accessible human documentary subject for all of us, and almost always one of the chief motivations underlying our own photography. As I head into 2016, and with an increasingly active young daughter, I’m personally finding myself pointing the lens at her – as is the same for any parent, I think. Yet unlike with other forms of social or commissioned documentary photography – I find it much harder to make an image I’m happy with, even though the subject matter means more to me personally than any of my other work (to which I think most pros in the audience will agree, too). And it’s not because toddlers are fast and active little humans; I think it’s got to do with subject familiarity and some principles that also underpin quantum mechanics. Have I completely failed to make sense yet? Let me try a little harder…
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
A photograph is an observation of a scene at a given moment in time. It’s an effectively instantaneous snapshot of the state of a scene or person or other subject, given the relative rate of change of those subjects. If we extend the duration of observation – i.e. with a long shutter speed – we might see some hints at that change in the form of motion blur, or eventually, averaging. If we get lucky, or observe for a long period of time, we might eventually be able to capture an interesting change or temporary state of the system; however, this assumes two further things. Firstly, that we can differentiate what is ‘interesting’ and have a good benchmark of what to look for; secondly, that we are aware and responsive enough to capture it. I think we can already see why there are some serious challenges here.
I think of this set as a fractal scale experiment: nature is self-same and self-replicating to some degree at different distances; what breaks this pattern is the presence of manmade elements of reference that provide a sense of size. Without those, it’s not so easy to tell if we’re looking at a bunch of very small bushes, or a mountain covered in massive trees. I was at varying heights for this series – everything from about 50cm to 40,000ft. Yet with the exception of some unremovable haze, the whole presentation is surprisingly consistent – which I find quite remarkable. MT
I’ll admit first off that this sentence is both somewhat disingenuous and incomplete: the more you shoot, the harder it gets to make something you’re happy with. Still confused? How about now: the more you shoot seriously, the harder it gets to make something you’re happy with. No, it’s not clickbait: it’s a personal observation from my own photography. And I think it’s both a good thing and a good barometer of whether the work you’re producing is really for you, or for somebody else. Knowing the normal demographics of this audience, the majority of readers are producing work purely for themselves – not for a client or crowd. (The actual/personal reasons for the production of images may be something else entirely, of course; none of us are beyond the siren’s lure of social validation and fame.)
Big city, bright lights, teeming crowds…yet the quest for individuality is perhaps stronger than ever. Yet we’re social creatures, so we want to fit in. But where? How? Here more than ever, people felt transient, subservient, temporary. Native is not native and you’re on the way somewhere else. The stage stays; the actors change. Here more than ever, I’ve always felt like I was just passing through – even the times where I was based here for months. MT
Things often start off perfect, or at least ideal. They seldom stay that way. But there’s no reason why the process can’t be reversed into redevelopment and renewal. It happens all around us; most of the time, it’s so common we don’t even take notice of it; sometimes extreme wabi and the right light does result in an interesting image, but there’s a fine line between hope and desolation, I think. This set is a series of observations during the course of my travels, made with that ideal of visual scrapbooks – the omnipresent iPhone. MT
This series was shot with an iPhone 6+ and processed with Photoshop and Lightroom Workflow III.
One more set of images from the ‘Over Australia’ series. These areas were not actually the primary focus of the trip, but rather something interesting overflown en-route – and when you’re chartering a plane, you want to squeeze out every single photographic opportunity possible. What caught my eye here was two things – the rather painterly patterns created by the typically Australian orange sand and water interspersing with oceanic sand, and the way the transparency of the water changed with the angle of the sun relative to our position – everything from milky to glassy to almost nonexistent (the water wasn’t very deep). There were also semi-evaporated pools that became isolated at low tide, both leaving interesting rim patterns and interesting colors from concentrated sediment suspensions. These were shot at low altitudes (1000-1500ft) from a light aircraft with the doors removed. (A helicopter both wasn’t available or possible because of the distances required.) It’s somewhat more challenging than working from a helicopter because the aircraft never stops; you need to have a high enough shutter speed and good panning technique to prevent any sort of camera shake ruining the transparency of the images – worse as the resolution increases.
I recently had a conversation with a reader with a question that honestly surprised me: “How do I hide my photography obsession from my wife?” I have to admit this one stumped me for a while: I’ve never hidden it from Nadiah, nor do I think I could even if I tried to – partially because I’m a really bad liar, and partially because for as long as she’s known me, even in corporate – I’ve always been a photographer first and foremost. But it does bring up some interesting thoughts around photography and spouses…