‘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
I was playing equipment tetris* for a job recently – a regular occurrence. It occurred to me that most of the hardware I was packing was ‘just in case’; contingency planning if something happens to go pear shaped or I encountered a situation at the very edges of the envelope. There are of course no excuses for not delivering what the client wants, at least if you intend to keep your clients. This means I basically had two complete Hasselblad medium format kits – including backup lens coverage – a set of filters, double the number of batteries and triple the number of cards, critical backups, etc. Add a spare tripod head and brackets to the mix, plus a day bag to work out of, and you’re soon seriously encumbered. This wasn’t even a job requiring external lighting, which brings the packed weight to somewhere in the 50kg region once you include stands and modifiers. In practice, for that once in a blue moon occurrence, you’re glad when you have it – but the rest of the time, your back is cursing you. The rest of the time, you shoot with one body and the zoom. There’s probably got to be an easier way, right?
*Attempting to fit in various camera bodies, lenses and accessories into the smallest possible volume for that amount of gear, but the largest possible volume that would pass for carry on – my record is 24kg overweight for hand carry, at which point Air France forced me to buy another seat. At full price. In one of the front cabins, because the rear one was full – and with a penalty fee for cancelling the old one. I definitely didn’t want to repeat that.
I’ve spent the last week producing some material for Hasselblad with a pair of preproduction X1D prototypes; I’ve teased the results of that in this post and the full content is in final production right now. In the meantime, I wanted to share some images from that shoot and thoughts on use of the X1D for street photography/ documentary. The portrait samples go up first because I’ve received quite a lot of mail asking about a) bokeh; b) available light performance; c) people.
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).
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.
How many careers will the average 30 year old have by the time they retire – if they can even afford to retire? My guess is anywhere north of five. This is a stark contrast with my parents’ generation, where working with the same company for life wasn’t unheard of – and 20+ year stints were pretty common. A move after anything less than five years was seen as ‘unstable’. When I began my career 14 years ago, that timetable was down to three; these days, a year is just fine. Are we learning faster? Probably not. Are we getting more impatient? Definitely. Tomorrow, I’ll turn 30. I am aware that this is probably a bit younger than most in the audience, if the workshop demographics are anything to go by, but I’m both here and I’m not; having graduated and started work at 16, I’m now on my second career and the vast majority of my friends and peers are in their 40s and 50s – which puts me in a rather unique observatory position (or eternal no-mans’ land, depending on how you look at it). If you’ll permit me the digression – I promise we will talk photography at some point later in the piece – I’d like to share some thoughts.
The term ‘format’ has come to represent two things in photographic parlance – firstly, the aspect ratio of the capture area or composition (e.g. 3:2, square, 16:9) and also the physical size of the recording medium (compact, APS-C, M4/3, ‘full frame’ etc.) – to the point that we have somewhat generic terms like ‘medium format’ and ‘large format’. How medium is medium? Is that 44×33, or 6x9cm? How large is large – 4×5″, or 20×24″? Capture medium choices are more of a continuum than anything, and all other things being equal, to see a significant difference a good rule of thumb is that you’re going to have to double the linear dimensions – i.e. 4x overall area. But what does all of this have to do with the actual making of images, and is it possible that larger isn’t necessarily better for some things? Absolutely.
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…