Original posted date: 31 December 2018
My approach to photography went through a major change in 2017: I switched back to film having not touched any rolls since university. And then 2018 came with even more new exciting things: I no longer own any SLR cameras and instead focuses solely on street photography and environmental portraiture with a rangefinder (or rangefinder-style) camera with black-and-white film.
These are the frames I took this year that shows the very photographer I have become:
We were on the move at this time so I had already missed the first few games of World Cup '18. I walked down the beach and spotted these guys playing football very enthusiastically, which was a pleasant surprise since everything sports-related in Sri Lanka I had seen before was cricket.
I had shot a lot of sports, but nothing came out quite like this. The main thing I'd normally do is to make the facial expressions and the action cool, upfront and central. The attention was not on me - the photographer, but on the subjects. On the contrary, the silhouttes of the players in the Sri Lanka picture were me screaming out silently: "I want to play, too!"
No longer a hobby: street photography is my outlet to express my state of mind, my therapy.
I had half an hour to spare near Picaddilly Circus while waiting for my girlfriend. Wandering around one of the back streets, I spotted a scaffolding that covered the whole of the sidewalk. It meant that people would have to walk through it if they want to go through to the station or down to Soho, and in a photographer's eyes, it made for a gorgeous set of subframes so I quickly burnt half a roll in that short half-hour wait into a miniseries.
From that point on, this area right in the heart of London has become my favourite spot to photograph. At night, the lighting is interesting: there is the large array of LED screens that is capable of lighting almost everything on the other side, and then you also get the bright lights from shop windows and sometimes interesting bits like the above scaffolding would pop up. I would return time and time again here to find myself getting lost amongst the endless streams of passers-by.
I started building a habit of working a scene over and over again, knowing exactly what exposure to use so that I can solely focus on the composition.
Baker Street - Marylebone
I work half a week at home and commute the other half. My favourite route on a sunny day includes a short walk from Baker Street Station to Marylebone Station. At exactly 0950, if the winter Sun is out (a sunny day in winter in England, surprise!) a large wall on the opposite side of the street from the Costa cafe is perfectly lit. I'd stand there for exactly 10 minutes before walking on to catch the first off-peak train out of town.
For months, I would go on the same route, stick to the same routine, memorise the exact framing and take note for each single exposure to get the shot that I envisioned. The moment that I saw the final frame first-hand off the development tank, I was so happy.
The devil is in the details. I persisted, and it worked.
Learning from the masters...
As I worked it backwards to the bare basics of film and photography, I spent more time going through the masters' works again - Henry Cartier-Bresson is my favourite of all.
I was so used to shoot hundreds or even thousands of frames per outing, especially with sports or high-intesity action, knowing that with the modern cameras there is always going to be at least one usable "money" shot. This carried on when I started doing more street photography. I decided that I had to slow down and get rid of the distractions so colours and complicated digital cameras with their screens and myriad of function buttons have to go away when I hit the street. Instead, monochrome film and rangefinder work-horses (first a Bessa R2M, then later a Leica M6 Classic) took their place. Cartier-Bresson's philosophy of the decisive moment gels with me very well as I evolve technically and artistically.
My new workflow slows me down so I take more time to think about my photographs before and after they are taken.
... and from friends
Looking back at the past is nice, but it is important to live the moment. Over the past year, I have made a lot of friends, many of whom have influenced my work and inspired me greatly. They are a constant reminder that photography should also be fun rather than just purely technical. Thank you very much, good folks - you know who you are ;)
Photography should also be fun and spontaneous. Sometimes we produce the best of our works when we play around. "Cầm Leica chụp bừa" is for real.
Happy shooting. 2019, here we come!