Today’s series is a continuation of the Australian aerials – this time exploring the abstracted textures of the coastal interface and immediately surrounding areas on both water and land. The myriad fractal textures generated by wave action are both infinitely varied and fascinating; each has its own aesthetic strengths. I actually had a very hard time curating it for this precise reason: it’s very difficult to prefer one abstract over another because each had some unique merits of its own. Nevertheless, I think the color flow works here, even if some of the finer textures can only be appreciated in a large print, including schools of marine mammals and the occasional tire track to lend a sense of scale. It also makes me wonder just how different this area would be in a few months given time and tide… 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.
When is a photograph not a strictly a photograph?
This is a little question that I’ve bumped up against now and again with increasing frequency as I produce personal work that’s less literal and more abstract. I think at simplest, what we have here is a continuum from ‘straight’ untouched images of literal objects that happen to be taken from an unusual vantage with unusual light that contributes to them feeling abstracted, surreal or both, to the opposite end where there is so much manipulation going on that we are no longer sure that what we are looking at can be classified as photography instead of mixed-media art. Some ‘conceptual’ commercial work can fall into this latter category, too. What is clear is that none of these images are in any way attempting to represent themselves as transparent photojournalism. The question that I’d like to address is not so much the definition of photography as at what point we must start to unburden ourselves of conventional notions of image-making and really start trying the crazy stuff.
There is a subliminal connection between shadows, mystery, uncertainty and something sinister; probably because we can’t necessarily be certain about what we cannot see. Of course, this can be used photographically to great effect in creating abstraction, geometry and structure – without shadows, we have no way in presenting the illusion of three dimensions in a medium that has two. What I find oddly paradoxical about these images is that the shadows don’t really have that dark and closed-in feeling; perhaps it’s the hard edges and delineation between light and dark that if anything makes the sunniness more obvious – for want of a better term, there’s a positive feeling here. There cannot be shadows without light and all that…MT
I recently attended two exhibitions. First was a semibiographical retrospective of Yves St Laurent at work by French photographer Pierre Boulat, and the other was Steve McCurry’s ‘Iconic Photographs’. Both were in Asia, but held at two of the top galleries in the region – Galeri Petronas and Sundaram Tagore, respectively. There was no faulting the presentation or hanging in either case. For both shows, print quality was frankly disappointingly mediocre. I’m prepared to give Boulat some latitude since he was working in relatively early film days and under ‘documentary’ conditions; McCurry’s film work often has obvious motion blur and focus misses, and his digital compounds that with oversharpening haloes – all of which land up being distracting from the image. He should really have tighter control on his post production, or stop outsourcing altogether – as the recent cloning scandal demonstrates. It’s not so much the use of postproduction enhancement, but the addition or removal of elements in what is expected to be work of a documentary nature. All of this has raised two questions in my own mind: firstly, if either photographer was starting out fresh today, would they have anywhere near the notoriety and fame, and secondly, has the game changed so much that we modern photographers have little hope of making a truly widely-recognized ‘iconic image’?
Today’s photoessay continues the series over Australia – specifically, the westernmost patch of the vast continent about halfway north. Most of these images were shot over the bit of water between Francois Peron National Park and Dirk Hartog Island; they weren’t the primary objective of the shoot, but still – when you’ve got this kind of variation in the water, there’s just no way you can not shoot. I’ve always been amazed by just how much the texture and feel of water changes with light direction and incremental amounts of breeze; what’s under the surface is hidden or revealed, almost regardless of depth. (The black patches are seaweed and seagrass.) I suppose it’s one of those fractal subjects that once again has the power to hold your attention for a significant amount of time because there are never two identical instants. I’ve printed several of these at 24″, and I feel that’s just the beginning of the ‘right size’ to allow the images to breathe – of course, being shot on the Hasselblad there’s plenty of scope for enlargement…enjoy! MT
One of the most unique things about the Australian landscape has always been the color of the soil – a rich orange-red that I’ve not seen anywhere else on earth – I guess it must have something to do with the rich mineral deposits. It ranges anywhere from a dull brown pre-dawn or post-dusk, or a really electric orange if the light hits things right – surface features stand out in stark relief and if three wasn’t anything recognisable as a plant, we might well think we were on the surface of Mars. It’s even more surreal from the sky, because the features hint at nothing so much as a landscape of history: suggestions of water dried and geology shifted; there’s definitely a sense of agelessness here. What came before? What comes next? We can only wonder. Perhaps there is something in the Aboriginal dreamtime mythology that might provide some guidance here – it’s easy to see where it came from. MT
This series was shot over Francois Peron National Park in Western Australia, from anywhere between 500 and 1500 feet.
The portrait and wedding photographers are all over their lighting gear – everything off camera is fair game to creating a look, and the more unique the look, the crazier the light, why not? Fair enough. Documentary photographers are mostly allergic to flashes because they can ruin the atmosphere and create the impression of something which perhaps isn’t necessarily accurate, or truthful. Product photographers just use what they need and quietly get on with the job. Amateurs will dabble and land up falling on one side of the fence or the other, usually staying away from the hassle of the weight and setup that comes with a ‘proper’ solution. Here’s my problem: I sit somewhere between the latter two points on the continuum, and finding a longer term, larger, lighting solution has been seriously overdue for me. I still don’t have a solution, but on the off chance somebody might find the logic and musings useful, here goes.
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…
Question, statement or suggestion and directive? Or perhaps all of the above? I believe very few people are truly 100% happy with their work. I know for a fact I’m not, and most people at the top of their game never are: that’s a big part of why they are where they are. The gulf is one of education: when you start out, you might not know what’s wrong – but you know something is missing. When you’ve got experience, you’re searching for that fifth element of serendipity to bring the magic. But what can we actually tangibly do to keep pushing the game along? I’ve come up with ten things both from the world of photography and beyond, some of which I put into practice now, and some of which I’d like to. Read on if you dare.