Create or document?

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From the series ‘Gravitation is relative’

I’ve come to believe that all photography falls into one of two categories: created, or documented. It’s also rather difficult to switch between the two, and people tend to find either one or the other more intuitive. I suspect this may well have something to do with left brain-right brain dominance, too. This underlying split is important because it dictates the kind of photographer you are, and the kind of work that best suits one’s intuitive vision. It isn’t a continuum, because the one thing that splits the two sides of the divide is binary: was something in the scene added or removed at the control of the photographer, presumably for the express intent of translating and communicating the vision of the photographer to the audience?

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Photoessay: Cinematic vignettes from Japan, part I

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The first part of this series is a sort of composited rush from one city (Tokyo) to the next (Kyoto) – it’s admittedly a bit discontinuous since the curation was made of a set of discontinuous 2.4:1 widescreen frames grabbed without the premeditated intention of being put together into a story; that said, I think they flow together quite well. If there’s one thing missing it’s a critical objective or action or something of that nature – but perhaps also quite indicative of what happens when one passes through a city with non-photographic objectives in mind. Shooting 2.4:1 is quite challenging without any guidelines – there is no mask or crop mode in the D850 for this, and one simply has to guess (it’s roughly half the frame height, plus a bit; I use the limits of the AF area’s outer box as a guide). 2.4:1 compositions really only work in two instances: when you’ve got a very full (‘wimmelbilt’) frame that spreads out horizontally, or a very empty one. The latter tends to be good for tighter human images, which this set is deliberately lacking – it’s about the place, not so much the people. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D850, 24-120/4 VR and post processed with the Cinematic Workflow in Making Outstanding Images Ep. 5. Visit Japan vicariously with How To See Ep. 2: Tokyo.

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Photoessay: Tokyographic

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In a city with a very high visual density – any sort of design has to shout quite loudly in order do differentiate itself and stand out. There are two ways of doing this: be more retina-searing than the next object, or be so plain as to create a sort of hole in space. I’ve always been fascinated with the dichotomy of Japanese design in general, and the translation to life and various classes of objects; there are examples where a design stands out but ages poorly (cars), it doesn’t stand out but is functional and occasionally clearly designed by an engineer, not a user (consumer electronics), and other times where design is so minimalist but elevated to the level of art (any traditional objects such as lacquerware, fabrics, etc.). In the case of this photoessay – we see it in the detailing and the block forms and colors used to accentuate what might otherwise be quite plain. I suppose these examples actually tend more towards the minimalist than the ornate, simply because they can all be reduced to fairly simple elements cleverly interlinked – given the large number of these kinds of photos in the archive, it would  probably be safe to say this is what resonates with me as a designer and photographer…

This series was shot with a mix of equipment including a GX85, X1D and D850 and post processed with Photoshop Workflow III. Travel vicariously to Tokyo in How To See Ep.2: Tokyo.

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The rise and decline of popular photography

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I don’t normally write counterpoint articles, because honestly, you’re not going to change people’s minds most of the time; nor do I write ones in agreement because most of what can be said has been by the original author. However, Paul Perton’s post on DearSusan about the world hitting ‘peak photo’ – in much the same sense as ‘peak oil’ – struck a chord for a few reasons. First and foremost – I think it’s true, but not necessarily for the reasons stated in the original article. Secondly, I have to correct some inaccurate assertions made about myself. I’m also selecting my post title very carefully here, too: decline, not fall, because we’re in a period where interest in pictures, picture-making, picture-showing and the photographic ecosystem for the vast majority of people* seems to have dropped off; it’s not a case of decreased growth; everybody I speak to at all points of the value chain says the market** is actively contracting, has been for some time, and will continue to do so in future. What I’m interested in understanding is why, and what this means for the rest of us who instead doubled down and got more serious.

*Audience, creators, consumers. **Pros, manufacturers, retailers, studios etc.

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Photoessay: Watercourse

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Being an island, water is of course unavoidable pretty much everywhere you go in Iceland – it shapes the country and often emerges in spectacular form from the least expected of places. Volcanic rock is of course extremely hard and resilient, but eventually the water wins; what I found most mind-boggling about the landscape wasn’t the scale, spectacle or extremes – but the fact that it will continue to change dramatically. What we see is but an instantaneous snapshot of a work in progress that will only get more spectacular with time, assuming a) we as the human race are still around to see it, and b) we haven’t somehow messed it up ourselves. I do realise the irony in that thought – and I’m sure many people will point out that I’m directly contributing to b) by merely visiting. Yet without more of us going and exploring to know what ought to be preserved, we can’t preserve it – or more importantly, give the landscape enough visibility in the wider social context so that people are aware that it needs to be preserved. Curiously, quantum mechanics is correct again even at this scale: we influence the outcome by measuring (recording) it…MT

Shot with the Hasselblad X1D Field Kit and processed with PS Workflow III.

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Favorite images of 2017 (or The Year in Review), part II


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June, Ginza, Tokyo. GX85, 35-100mm

Though this looks like part of a Koenigsegg from the previous post, it’s pure coincidence – I shot this through a window at the Nissan salon in Ginza whilst walking past on the way to another meeting. The textures and shades of red really appealed – and I’m actually surprised the M4/3 sensor didn’t cook the color channel.

(Continued from Part I)

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Favorite images of 2017 (or The Year in Review), part I

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January. John Rylands Library, Manchester. X1D-50c, 45mm – place aside, think of the concept of a library: the preservation and sharing of knowledge – which itself needs to be nuanced, detailed, solid, and illuminating at the end of the visit: this scene translates all of that into architecture, and subsequently a physical location. What could be more appropriate?

Let’s indulge in a little retrospective curation today. Being the start of the new year, I generally find it useful to review my output from the previous year for a couple of reasons: firstly, to see how things have moved in general (often, you have the intention to shoot something but not necessarily the opportunity or discipline) and secondly, to determine where to go from here. It always makes sense to know one’s strengths and weaknesses, not to mention an awareness of just how much of photography is down to serendipitous luck. I suspect we’ll find that the planned/ commissioned work is pretty much as expected with few wildcards, but the spontaneous stuff is both less in overall volume (simply due to not having time or opportunity) but higher in spontaneity (because the few opportunities that remain are really NOT planned.) It also doesn’t help that the more you shoot – the higher the thresholds get. There’s simply a lot more history to overcome: what you produce now needs to be ‘better’ than what you did previously in the same subject or style category; yet it’s precisely this sort of precuration that kills experimentation. And we’re not even counting what I think of as the ‘craftsman’ type jobs where the client defines precisely what they want, and there isn’t much scope for creativity – those of course almost never hit the radar.

Interestingly, I landed up with more images from more recent shoots – which suggests that there’s definitely temporal bias even after a few months; either that or I’ve simply forgotten work from earlier in the year. Even so, there are only 29 images in this set, each of which I think would pass the ‘would I print and hang it’ test. With that preamble out of the way, let’s go to some images. I won’t leave much commentary other than precisely what appeals to me in the image and a little context. Even so, it’s going to be a fairly long post – so I’ve broken it into two parts. MT

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Discussion points: photographic rules

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Much has been written about photographic guidelines or rules that are supposed to guarantee you – or at least lead to a high chance of success – an interesting or balanced image. I’m not about to reinforce those, but neither am I about to dismiss them completely. Instead: let me offer you an alternative take on The Pantheon of Photographic Dogma like ‘the rule of thirds’ and ‘best light at dawn and dusk’ and ‘blur only your backgrounds’ etc. Important: it is not to be confused by the limitations imposed by the physiology of the way we see: we cannot help notice bright colours because this is the way our brains and eyes are wired. We cannot help but notice abrupt highlight clipping (but not black shadows) – because we cannot change the way the cells in our retinas are laid out. Apply some scepticism to internet pundits who can’t differentiate between man-imposed rules and those which are physiologically limited. With that, let’s move on to the discussion background.

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Photoessay: Icelandic seascapes

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Today’s series of images are some of the ones that stuck from my trip to Iceland a few months back – specifically, the seascapes. I was only there for a week, so seasonal weather variations were minimal. Nevertheless, we did get some drama in the skies (though no truly bad storms, thankfully). That said, I’m still one of those people who believes there’s no such thing as light that’s impossible to work with; better/worse, yes, but even the crummiest weather conditions can yield something visually interesting. Oddly, I have to admit that one of the scenes that spoke the most to me was the stones on the beach: constantly moist from spray and waves, they glistened, jewel-like. At a macro level, they look pretty perfect; at the micro level, despite being polished for years by the waves – none of them are quite. The closer you look, the harder it is to find perfection. I’m sure there’s probably a photographic moral in there somewhere. MT

Shot with the Hasselblad X1D Field Kit and processed with PS Workflow III.

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Photoessay: An hour at the Blue Mosque

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Disclaimer: I spent a cumulative hour in total shooting it, hence the different times of day. It’s one of those buildings that – much like Hagia Sophia – dominates and encroaches into every frame and vista in the Sultanahmet district. You can’t avoid it, but like all large buildings – there’s a curious effect of perspective that occurs as you get closer; the upper tiers appear to recede (probably because the upper tiers are stepped in pyramid form to better transfer the roof’s weight through the half domes). Construction started in 1609 and reflects the predominant architectural styles of the time: nested domes and half domes to create a largely free-standing internal volume, but still a rather stocky rectangular/square base profile. I’ve always thought of this ‘hemisphere on a square’ type of architecture of being a very distinctive characteristic of medieval Turkey. Unusually, the mosque has six minarets instead of the usual four – folklore puts this down to the architect mishearing the Sultan’s request for gold minarets. Internally, a rather low chandelier provides illumination but diminishes the perception of lofting space because of the weight of the ironwork; the very warm incandescent lights largely negate the effect of the blue tiles cladding the entire internal space – you have to look hard to see them, and the impression is a ceramic rather than blue one. As with most of these (relatively) ancient buildings – I’m left amazed that something with such delicacy and intricacy could have been constructed that long ago, whilst my five year old apartment has a habit of springing random leaks. I’m left humbled and wondering if it’s cost, care/pride in work, or something else. MT

This series was shot in Istanbul with a Hasselblad H6D-100c, 50, 100 and 150mm lenses, and post processed with Photoshop and LR Workflow III (and the Weekly Workflow). Get more out of your voyages with T1: Travel Photography.

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