The New Recruit
Fuji x100s, 35mm, f/8, 1/60s, ISO 640
When I was in London for work a couple of weeks ago I decided to do most of my traveling by foot: it wasn’t raining, the distances weren’t massive (the most I walked between two meetings was an hour) and it felt healthy. As long as I was close to the river, in the area where most buildings are brick, there were a ton of photo opportunities like this one. I don’t know what it is about brick buildings that gives them so much photographic appeal, but it’s a reality. As soon as I moved into the posher areas, photo opportunities just died down it seems…
I recently watched through a series of documentaries from the late 90s produce by the BBC. The title of the series is Decisive Moments: The Photographs that Made History. This is of course a kind of abuse of the « decisive moments » terminology that was popularized by Henri Cartier-Bresson and related more to street photography, but it’s an apt title as it shows how some photographs, sometimes accidental, had an impact on world history.
The six episodes are roughly chronological, though they are somewhat themed as well. Here is a quick breakdown of the episodes:
- The Persuaders charts the early use of photography in political influence and propaganda. It raises some really interesting questions on the fine line between framing and staging photos, especially examining the controversy around the FSA photos. I also discovered Alexander Rodchenko whose photography I will clearly need to look into.
- Are You Crazy? shows the impact of photography in the first conflict that was really under the eye of the camera. It looks at famous war photographers like Capra but also at the impact (and censorship) of the pictures. It highlights the story of Joe Rosenthal‘s Flag on Iwo Jima and its cousin picture Yevgeny Khaldei’s Raising a Flag over the Reichstag.
- Some Intimacy explores the post-war glamour role of photography in advertising and the star-system. The highlight is the story of Yousuf Karsh‘s famous Churchill portrait, but overall this is the episode that interested me the least as it focuses on glamour photography.
- Only in the Light of Day is a very interesting delve into the role of photography in Vietnam and other conflicts. Really interesting section on Larry Burrows and how he went from photographing propaganda to really photographing the war. This episode also shows how governments took a long while to adapt to the idea of photography not being a controllable medium for politics.
- A Rough Road is a 1997 assessment of the profession and its future. One of the dramatic stories is Jeff Widener retelling the circumstances of his photo of Tien an Men’s Tank Man. It’s ironic and sad that even then, before the advent of digital photography, the writing was on the wall: war photographers were often taking risks for nothing and the prospect was bleak even then.
All in all it’s a good series, even if a little too US/Britain centric in my opinion. Still, as photo documentaries go, this one is interesting in that it doesn’t focus on the photographic process but rather on the impact. Well worth your time if you can find it.
Former French Concession
Fuji x100s, 35mm, f/4, 1/60s, ISO 1250
The former French concession is a unique place in Shanghai, but one that I haven’t spent quite enough time in yet. One of its characteristics is that the streets are lined with leafy plane trees which creates a pleasant shade in the sun. Notice the guy driving his scooter with no helmet and texting at the same time…
The Orange Helmet Gang
Fuji x100s, 35mm, f/4, 1/60s, ISO 3200
You often cross armies of workers in the streets of Shanghai. They move in packs. But this was the first time I saw said army eat its lunch on the back of a car.
Fuji x100s, 35mm, f/5, 1/160s, ISO 200
One of my favorite things to do in Shanghai is walk the old streets. Not old in an architectural sense, but old in the sense that people still live there like they did 20 years ago. With your camera in hand it’s a shot a minute. Here the contrast between the decidedly vintage way of selling meat (though very common here) and the smartphone in the seller’s hand attracted me to it. I couldn’t quite figure out what the turned umbrellas were for, but fending off sunlight is the likeliest explanation, I guess.
When I’m an Old Man
Fuji x100s, 35mm, f/5.6, 1/60s, ISO 2500
My friend Steve recently introduced me to a wonderful poem by Jenny Joseph entitled Warning. It’s about a woman describing all the wild things she will do when she is old. I thought about that when I saw this man in his boxer shorts in the middle of Danshui road with a fire in front of him when it was 32°C outside. Oh, and in case you wonder why this was shot at 2500 ISO it’s because I’m stupid: three weeks ago I shot portraits of my daughter in blinding sunlight and I had to switch the in-built ND filter on to cut some of the light out. I forgot to switch it off, and only realised after that whole set of photos on Danshui Lu. You can see the full set here, if you’re interested.
(Click to Enlarge)
Fuji TX2 (Xpan), f/8, 1/250s, ISO 50
Film: Ilford Pan F
Old Batavia is a tiny square block in Jakarta that has some remnants of colonial architecture. There are a good number of street entertainers on the square, including this little guy. It was super hot, like 38°C, and I really felt for him. I don’t normally hand money out for photos, but in his case I made an exception.
(Click to Enlarge)
Muara Nikmat & Co
Fuji TX2 (Xpan), 45mm, f/8, 1/250s, ISO 200
Film: Agfa Scala 200
The Jakarta docks are worth seeing if only for all those lined up boats in various states of disrepair (but all sailing merchandise as far as I could see).
(Click to Enlarge)
The Streets of Jakarta
Fuji TX2 (XPAN 2), 45mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 200
Film: Agfa Scala 200
There are shots that you just know are going to come out right when you take them. With film, the time between shooting and reviewing is especially long (and even more so with the hard to process Scala B&W slide) but this one stuck with me for 3 months before I could get it processed. Believe it or not, I didn’t see the metal bar on the top left when I shot and obviously the picture is a little less powerful for it, but still, I’m happy with the results.
Le Ballet des Balais
Fuji TX2, 45mm, f/4, 1/60s, ISO 400
Film: Kodak Ultramax 400
During my brief (20 minute) photo excursion in Warsaw, I tried to find interesting subjects for panoramas. It was early morning on a grey day, so the light wasn’t exactly perfect, but luckily at 45mm your f/4 shots are still mostly in focus. When I saw these three street sweepers coming towards me with their bright yellow jackets, I sensed an opportunity. So I stopped walking, leaned back on the wall and prepared my camera. When they were at my height of the street and well detached, I snapped. Quite pleased with this one. Oh, and by the way, Ballet des Balais means Ballet of Broomsticks in French, but the alliteration doesn’t exactly translate