Soul, redux: or, interpretations reflect the audience

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Sophie, the mime: the image resonates and means something to me because I have an emotional connection to the subject, to the setting, and I know the narrative story on either side of the frame. It may resonate with you because you happen to like children, or because the facial emotion is a strong an unambiguous one, or you like monochrome documentary portraiture, or for some other reason. But if it were executed differently, you may feel different about it – but not necessarily or consciously know why. It is up to the photographer to control the unconscious influences in such a way that at least their intended communication is fulfilled, but not in a way that draws attention to itself (and thus breaks that illusion).

After the huge amount of very interesting and thoughtful discussion that ensued in the comments – thank you for your thoughts, everybody – and a few days of settling time, I couldn’t leave the previous article on soul hanging inconclusively. There are few very interesting observations made, higher conclusions that one can draw from the responses here, and further logical leaps from contemplation of one’s own work and raison d’être. Firstly, a clarification though: I’m not looking for a magic formula to ‘inject soul’ into my own work, and I’ll explain why later. I was and am simply seeking to understand why certain images move certain people in a certain way – and if there’s anything one can use there to make a stronger image, given the choice, and providing of course it fits one’s own idea.

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Soul

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Let me start off by saying I’m probably the wrong person to write about this topic, but that’s also precisely why I need to. My critics are always fond of saying my images are too cold, too precise, too unemotional, too lacking in soul. There are no right or wrong absolutes when comes to art and photography, only subjective preferences; this of course means that there’s probably a nugget of something legitimate in there. I’ve spent some time contemplating what this last bit might actually mean: what is soul in an image? Why do some images have it, and others don’t? I will also say that whatever I put forth after this point is pure conjecture on my part (more so since I apparently don’t know what soul is), and I’m sure there are as many definitions as there are photographers. So, feel free to add your two cents in the comments…

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Photoessay: Atlantic coast II, Foz do Douro

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Continued from the first part.

Whilst the previous companion photoessay deal with the people of the location at a more macro scale, the aim of today’s conclusion is to convey a feel for the place itself – the power of the sea; the repetition of the waves and the romanticism of the coast and nautical travel. There’s the certainty that the waves are trying to pound the human intrusion into submission, but for now the manmade is holding steady – yet in the long run, nature always wins. My choice of presentation for this set was deliberately painterly in nature – there’s something about those 18th century oil seascapes that I personally find both fitting and appealing… MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50C, various HC lenses and processed with the Cinematic workflow in Making Outstanding Images Ep.5.

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Photoessay: Dark Porto

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‘Sinister’ is perhaps the best description for the undercurrent that you feel when walking through the old town of Porto at night or under a cloudy sky; it’s as though the dilapidation and decay is hiding a sort of madness or mania – the anguish of knowing that survival is not assured, or that one’s best days are perhaps past. Color speaks of faded glory and perhaps a bit of whimsy/ nostalgia – but monochrome does much better in conveying the weight and ominosity…MT

This series was shot with a Hasselblad H5D-50c, various lenses, a Leica Q 116 and post processed with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow.

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The photographic bucket list

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Havana, Cuba

We all have places, things and events we’d like to photograph – my mind was drifting on a recent drive back from Singapore, and I thought it might be interesting to compile a list in one place both for me to share some of my ideas with readers, and for you to contribute your own in the comments. Some I’ve done/been to, and others remain aspirational. We may well become aware some things locally that we hadn’t considered exotic or interesting, and if some interesting images come out of it – why not? There is one caveat, though: the bucket list has to be feasible (i.e. ‘the moon’ is out).

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Photoessay: People at the seaside, Foz do Douro

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I’ve always found the Atlantic coastlines to be a little melancholy: there’s the beauty of nature, but often something heavy in the sky and a bite to the wind that makes you glad you brought your coat and hat. People still go because they’re attracted to the sea and presumably wondering what’s over the horizon; in this case, we’re at one of the westernmost points of the European continental mainland, and there’s pretty much nothing until you hit the coast of America. This series of images was shot in the space of a couple of hours. Porto’s old town proper had proven rather depressing, and the weather hadn’t helped; we took a chance and headed to the coast with the hopes of one last hurrah before returning to Lisbon. I’m glad we did, because I think it paid off – even if it meant using a lot of damp towels later to carefully dissolve the dried salt off our equipment. Despite the huge amount of moisture in the air and seawater splashing everywhere, the Hasselblad didn’t miss a beat – though curiously there was a lot more dust on the sensor than normal, perhaps sticking as a consequence of humidity.

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Photoessay: Tokyo street monochromes

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Yin-yang tribute to Fan Ho

I actually prefer to think of these as little stories, or vignettes – I suppose that should really be the objective of street photography; to capture an transient and narrative element of life in a documentary way. That little slice of time might not be significant to anybody other than the main players, but it’s no excuse for a lack of story. I’m going to complete my version of the story by adding titles…even if audience preferences may differ🙂 Enjoy! MT

This series was shot with a Nikon D5500, 55-200/4-5.6 DX VR, Sony A7RII, Zeiss 2.8/21 Loxia, Zeiss 1.8/85 Batis, and Contax Zeiss 2.8/85 Sonnar and post processed with the Monochrome Masterclass workflow. You can also get your weekly dose of PS right here

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Artists, creatives and critics

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Positive/creative

Almost everybody falls into one of two categories: creator or consumer. Do you spend more time making content or material, derivative or otherwise, than consuming it? Do you prefer to make or view images? Of the creators, there are positive, derivative and negative. The positives try to advance art, science and and knowledge by providing a point of view or product or device or service that hasn’t existed previously, whilst maybe or maybe not benefitting personally from the provision of said novelty. The line between positive and derivative is a blurry one, and perhaps doesn’t cleanly exist – in my mind, it’s down to whether the creator tries to add some element of originality or not; there’s no such thing as 100% uniqueness or 100% invention from nothing. We cannot create without some base of precedent or inspiration, no matter how remote or seemingly unrelated. But the more remote the connections that are made in the creation of something, the more the creator contributes by joining the dots, making the logical conclusions and helping the rest of us see what we might have missed.

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Photoessay: Motion in Tokyo/ The Idea of Man II

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I view The Idea of Man project as mostly complete; the story is tight and stylistically consistent. But I’ve been thinking a lot about its sequel in the time since the exhibition; to begin with – is there one at all? Where does one go from the story of the individual finding their place in the world? The answer came to me after some long exposure urban landscape: it’s in community, in groups, in the flow and interaction of individuals. And that idea will be at the core of The Idea of Man II.

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A creative frame of mind, redux

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Things are not as they seem: experimentation, in capture and post

This is an alternative take on an earlier piece I wrote, also on a creative frame of mind: from a different frame of mind, no less. There are some professions where you don’t have to be in the right mood to do your job well. You can be an effective consultant, accountant or middle management without having to be particularly inspired; in fact, imagination is generally not a good thing when it comes to accounting and finance anyway. (At least that’s what Inland Revenue said; if you’re Prime Minister, that’s another thing entirely). However, for creative professions – photography, videography, design, writing, music etc. – there’s no question that your state of mind has a direct and very tangible impact on the outcome of the work. As a photographer, professionalism – the ability to deliver at a minimum standard that’s above your client’s expectations under effectively all circumstances – is the bare minimum. But inspiration is what really make the difference between workaday and brilliant. [Read more…]

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