Photography in the Abstract: Parallel Lines

= and || and # and ” and B and E and F and H and N and U and Z. Parallel lines. (Strange that there are no numbers here, yes?)

Lines are one of the main photographic lenses. When viewing any photograph, we can ask, “How do the lines interact in this picture? Lines come in three main forms: curvy, perpendicular and parallel. We looked at strange, curvy lines in a previous post on silhouette photography. We’ll look at perpendicular lines next time. That leaves…parallel lines! Like all Photography in the Abstract posts, we’ll ask the question:

What ways can you use parallel lines to compose a great picture?


Lines + Out-of-Focus

Strategy to take this kind of picture is: 1) Find close object with a straight side. 2) Align close object’s line with a line in the background. 3) Click.

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It’s nice when in- and out-of-focus object have similar/related structures (5 rectangular blocks). It’s also nice when those blocks are not simply blocks of color but have their own little details (tile has semi-perpendicular lines for example). [Hong Kong, China]

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I like it when the out-of-focus (oof) lines have different levels of depth. [Kaiping, China]


Variation on a Theme

The above photos emphasize big differences between lines using blur level. The pictures below emphasize small differences using parallel lines to keep shape constant (and thus emphasize the other small differences).

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Middle section is variation on railroad track theme. Top and bottom sections are variation on beige theme (w.r.t. middle section). [Suzhou Railroad Station, Suzhou, China]

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Variations on texture and depth. I think this is playground equipment. [Fenyang, China]


Parallelism Gone Awry

The lines in the photographs above are darn close to perfectly parallel. The lines in the pictures below are ones that “aren’t parallel, but should be”. This is different than “aren’t parallel and shouldn’t be”. i.e. There are lots of lines in pictures that aren’t parallel but the viewer doesn’t care. In the following pictures we do care (about non-parallelism).

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Like a firecracker exploded and stopped the parallel lines. [Dongguan, China]

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Same pile. Again, parallel lines are a tad off. Angled stick hurts. Sticks ending before leaving the frame also hurts. [Dongguan, China]

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Far left lines start parallel. In the middle, bait/gravity combo and reflection turns fishing lines from = into x (parallel to chaos). [Dongguan, China]


Shorter and More Dense Parallel Lines Create Perspective

Photographers will often use converging lines to create perspective. Less often we’ll use shorter and shorter parallel lines to achieve the same effect. Railroad tracks show both, so let’s look at that first then check out my pics.

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EXAMPLE PHOTO: Converging lines are the vertical rails. Shorter and more dense horizontal lines are the perpendicular wooden slats. Both imply a vanishing point. [Internet, USA]

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Top left: short, dense lines. Bottom right: long, infrequent lines. [Fenyang, China]

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Same concept here with two differences. One, lines get longer and then shorter (longest line is Line #5, not Line #6). Two, lines aren’t perfectly parallel. I’m also capturing another convergence point somewhere in the distance away from bottom right. [Kaiping, China]

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Imperfect parallelism creates tilty world vibe. [Fenyang, China]

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Variation on railroad track picture. This picture emphasizes converging lines instead of parallel ones. The parallel lines are actually the red steps. Not a constant line, but dots. Note how dots get denser in both directions. [Fenyang High School Stadium bleachers, Fenyang, China]


Nontraditional Lines Are Cool Too

‘Nuff said. Look for lines everywhere.

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[Chengdu, China]

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[Swingset, Fenyang, China]


Until Next Time

It’s 2015! I published 17 posts in 2014 after returning from China. Not bad. I definitely enjoy this. Posts that I’m most excited for in 2015:

  • Ducks
  • Texture
  • Reviewing photographer’s reviews (of my blog)
  • Using post-production (which I’ve never done)
  • B&W

Thanks to all of you who have been reading my posts! 20 followers is a non-zero number! K bye.

– Rhys

Photography in the Abstract: Small Photography

Welcome to the 5th post in Photo Series 3: Photography in the AbstractToday’s topic is pretty damn cool. It’s about “small” photography, i.e. the kind of photography that looks better when viewed as small. Up until this point, all of the pictures on this blog have been presented in “large” form: as large as can be while still being able to see the entire picture on a single computer screen. Today there will be no large photos, only small. First, we’ll ask our classic Photography in the Abstract question: what are the different ways that you can compose small photography? Then we’ll find out the optimal technique to take small pictures. Then we’ll expand that optimal small system to optimal systems for any given mode of photographic presentation. It’s a long post (but worth it, I swear). Let’s go!


How do you compose a great small photograph?

There are many ways to take a great small photo. Today we’ll just talk about photos in which the smallness helps the subject (rather than the composition [the whole]). And remember, these are photos in which the smallness actually helps the picture — merely looking good while small is not enough. It must be the case that [small photo] > [big photo]. To truly be convinced, I recommend clicking on the photos to see them in their ugly, large state.


Smallness Turns Small Dots into Smaller Dots

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Instead of seeing a bunch of individual Christmas lights, we see a sky of stars. [Victoria Peak, Hong Kong, China]

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Like the picture above, the density is emphasized by small spaces becoming smaller, by the lights at the far end nearly vanishing. [Chengdu, China]


Smallness Creates Correct Zoom Level For Texture

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When this picture is full size, you can distinguish individual fish a bit too well. When small, this picture instead shows a wall of fish. See Finding Nemo’s school of fish: http://goo.gl/yZl3Or. [Panda Zoo, Chengdu, China]

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The reflective texture on the lightbulb wants this level of detail. Too large and you can start to pick apart its imperfections. [My House, Fenyang, China]


Smallness Emphasizes Correct Part of Shape

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The key visual idea here is how the triangles are stacked on the straight line. This level of abstraction is exactly what we want. Triangles. Lines. Black. Detail would be counterproductive. [Bridge Across Frozen River, Harbin, China]

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These are strange objects. The left seems to desire the right. Perpetual motion spurred by want. When zoomed in, we start to see the texture and need to move our eyes in order to see the two objects. Both of these hurt the emphasis on pure form. Thus, small > large. [Chongqing, China]


Smallness Emphasizes Shape of Human, Rather Than Face

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Much like the category above, the subjects in these pictures are doing something defined by a zoom level OUT. The kid here is interesting because of the excitement conveyed by his body position, not his face. [Public Fishing Pond, Chengdu, China]

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Many empty seats. Guard. Straight back. Hands behind back. Dark clothes. Chinese Red. Hat. None of those words are face. QED. [Shanghai Basketball Game, Shanghai, China]


Smallness Emphasizes Groups of Color

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The idea here is that there’s a blob of color. Blobs are amorphous and are therefore helped by the ambiguity as a result of smallness. The particular pic is pretty ridiculous. Person biking with 100+ balloons. Can’t even see him/her. [Dongguan, China]

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The idea of color, rather than specific colors themselves. This picture has 3 sections of color: umbrella and two reflections. [Shanghai, China]


Smallness Allows Blurry Mist

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Mist/pollution/smoke is difficult to take pictures of, especially in the dark. It’s possible, but you need to increase the camera’s ISO level, creating gross pixelization. Viewing the picture as small keeps the best parts of the air — the aura of gradient light, while reducing the worst — blurriness. [Shanghai, China]

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See that non-blurry reflective fog! [The Bund, Shanghai, China]

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Love the lighting here. Dust clouds illuminated in the night. [Chongqing, China]

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Same foggy night as pictures 1 and 2. [Shanghai, China]


Finding a Small Creation Medium For a Small Consumption Medium

Now that the types of small pictures have been outlined (above, dummy), let’s look at how to take small photographs. To understand how to create this work, we need to look at how it will be consumed. And that’s in small form. You (the viewer) look at it here, on this blog, as a 400×225 pixel image. I want it to look good in this medium. To look good here, I should try to take 400×225 pictures. Creation medium = consumption medium. Take small pictures for a “View As Small” medium.

I didn’t do consciously do this. I just took pictures “through” my LCD screen on my camera. I use the LCD screen as my viewfinder for other reasons. Creating “View As Small” pictures was an unintended consequence. It happened as I was going through my 10,000+ China photos. My sorting process was dictated by the goal — “Find Patterns” (those patterns have turned into the posts that you’ve read on this blog). I started to notice a strange pattern where my positive expectations for a given picture were shattered when I looked at the picture full screen. I’d get pumped by the thumbnail, only to be disappointed by the fullscreen photograph. It only happened with horizontal photos (see all the photos above) where the difference between thumbnail size and fullscreen size was greater (width is 6x greater * height is 5x greater = 30x more area for horizontal pictures vs. 1.5*2 = 3x more area for vertical pictures). Pictures were no longer “trash” if they looked bad big, they were just “View As Small”-ers. Like the runt of the litter. Just different.

And there were a lot of runts (nearly 50 high-quality photographs). Why did I take so many “View As Small” photos? It’s because every picture that I took was a “View As Small”. Here’s an example. I’m trying to get a sweet picture of a sea of white Christmas lights in Hong Kong.  I move a bit. I stretch my arm to the left. I look at it my LCD viewfinder. And…..yeah! That looks pretty damn sweet! Click. But it only looks sweet on a 400×225 pixel screen. Who the hell knows if it’ll look good at 1600×900? Boom. View As Small picture taken.


Creation Medium = Consumption Medium

I was on a backpacking trip with my brother a month or two ago and was telling him about my View As Small blog post (this). He was hatin’ on me for using the LCD instead of the stick-your-eye-to-it viewfinder. I was trying to convince him that the LCD viewfinder must be optimal for, at the very least, View As Small pictures. He wasn’t quite convinced until I gave him the larger implication: the consumption medium should always dictate the creation medium.

This idea affects the simple size of the photo. Small dictates small. Large dictates large. But we should definitely go further. If I know that my pictures are going to be viewed on a computer screen at 400×225, then I should create that environment when I take the picture. My camera should look like this:

medium-medium-blog-example

If I wanted to shoot optimal [View As Small + Be Viewed On This Blog] photography, I should take pictures using the camera interface above. (You can imagine a WordPress iPad app that has this functionality.)

As another example, let’s pretend we are Tim Cook (Apple’s new CEO) and are planning for this year’s Apple Event. We are going to showcase the new photo roll screen. This:

camera roll screenshot

If we assume that we will only see the photos in thumbnail form, then we should take the pictures with an LCD screen that looks like this:

camera roll screenshot

To go one step further, we shouldn’t take the pictures on a normal iPhone. Instead, take the pictures on an LCD that looks like this but is huge and projected onto a screen (like at the Apple Event).

This may seem a bit extreme. But I think the original concept (medium = medium) still holds and should be applied more often. To push even more to an extreme, we’d start to address the environment outside the screen. e.g. Most people read this blog listening to music through headphones while sitting on a couch, petting their cat. I need to recreate that situation to take the optimal picture (some kind of weird wheelchair contraption with a very well-trained [or well-A.I.-ed] kitty).

Another implication of this medium = medium idea comes by solving the equality from the other direction. Until now we have let the consumption medium dictate the creation medium. Instead, let’s construct the consumption medium from the creation medium. For my point-and-shoot, the blog would look like this:

creation-implies-consumption-example

And the blog would be much much lamer.


Until Next Time

I usually try to keep my blog posts to about half of this length, so I’m especially interested in your feedback on a long-form article like this one. Let me know what you think! Also, stay tuned for the second View As Small post. It’ll be more pictures and less theory.

Thanks for reading!

– Rhys

Silhouettes Part 2: Buildings Down and Sky Up

Welcome to Photo Series 3: Photography in the Abstract! Last week we looked at Silhouettes Part 1: Humans and Non-Buildings. Today we’re going to look at how buildings and the sky interact in silhouette photography. It might seem strange to talk about the sky (the non-silhouette) in an article about silhouette photography. But, unlike with human silhouettes, building silhouettes are always composed against the sky. Up. The sky is half of the picture.

And the building is the other half. Therefore, I have a small conundrum. I need to examine two independent parts of a photo: the building and the sky. I could judge which part is more important/prototypical for a given photo and then choose that bucket (building or sky) for that photo. 1 photo, 1 bucket. It’s what I’ve done in the past in classifying my photography. Or I could show each photo twice, once by building and then by again sky. Neither option is great. The first ignores a crucial part of each picture and the second is too repetitive. Instead, I’ll classify pictures by building during your scroll down. At the bottom, I’ll tell you a couple defining features of sky. Then you can scroll back up, looking for those features, scavenger hunt style. Sound good? Cool. Again, the question I ask is:

What are the ways you can use silhouettes to take great building photography?

Full Building

Some buildings outlines are just cool.

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I like the bonus outline on the pagoda. [Fenyang, China]

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Front wall of an old Portuguese church. [Macao, China]

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Intense. Chinese Tower of London. [Taiyuan, China]


Towards a Vanishing Point

Classic perspective technique. Big to small. Nice angles.

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This old city wall surrounds the world’s first bank. We can see the vanishing point. [Pinyao, China]

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Between 1 and 2, lots of space. Between 2 and 3, top circle touches but space still holds. Space between 3 and 4 doesn’t exist. [Guilin, China]


Symmetrical

Buildings are built by humans and we love symmetry.

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An abandoned yurt in the grasslands. [Xilamuren Grasslands, Inner Mongolia, China]

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Again, the bonus outline is key here. [Chengdu, China]

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A flip of the classic building symmetry. The lighting on the building keeps it from true symmetry but I actually like the effect. Side note: Once you get in the groove, it’s amazing how quickly you can take pictures that hit the geometry you’re trying to achieve. See top corners. [Pinyao, China]


Geometric Shapes Combined

Besides skyscrapers, buildings are rarely just a box. Instead, they are the combination of multiple geometric shapes (like tangrams).

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Far right is tangram-y (triangle popping up is key). Stairs are stegosaurus-y. Low left is rocky. Many shapes here. [Macao, China]

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Two rectangles intersect in bottom left. Duct forms triangle and loop. [Chengdu, China]

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Teacher’s Day. Bottom left has top right corner of an octagon. Triangle flag. Humans break the exacting nature. (See last week for more of this.) [Fenyang, China]


Building Adornment Pop

Cool buildings have cool adornments on their corners. Think gargoyles.

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Abstract animal? [Pinyao, China]

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Ah, I love the bonus outline. [Pinyao, China]

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Stadium lights are technically not an adornment but it’s the same general idea. i.e. There’s an object that is interestingly shaped and is therefore the object of the viewer’s attention. Bird is the perfect balancer. [Fenyang, China]


Wireframe

Building silhouettes are usually solid swaths of black (see all categories above). This category contains buildings (or parts of buildings) where this is not the case, where there’s sky inside.

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Construction, abandoned. [Harbin, China]

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That chain mail fence is up. [Pinyao, China]


The Sky Is Up

Now that we’re done with classifying building silhouettes, it’s time to scroll back up, looking at the sky rather than the silhouette. But before we do that, I want to say that I especially enjoyed writing today’s article. Structuring the two-featured pictures was probably my most difficult problem thus far in my writing. I think my solution (scroll down, scroll up) is fine, but not great. Wish I had the time to code the webpage such that text appeared different on the way down than on the way up. Alas. Let me know if you liked this system! (Though you will need to scroll back down to do so.)

On your way up, look for varying degrees of sun in the sky. At the most extreme, you can see the full disc of the sun. In pictures with less intense sky, the sun is hidden by some object, making its glow the defining feature of the sky. In the least extreme case, the sun is off camera providing a light-to-dark gradient across the sky. In essence, look for: sun disc, sun glow, sun gradient. Enjoy!

Silhouettes Part 1: Humans and Non-Buildings

Welcome to Photo Series 3: Photography in the Abstract, post #3! Today I’d like to talk about silhouettes in photography. I like silhouettes for the same reason that I like black-and-white photography or the Instagram square – constraints breed creativity. Without the inside of shapes at your disposal, silhouette photography forces alternate solutions to create compelling media. In addition, I like the clean/simple inherent quality of silhouette photographs. They feel like photography for graphic designers. I’ve taken so many of these pictures that I’m going to cut this post into two parts. Today we’ll look at humans and non-building silhouettes. Let’s get to the classifications. Again, the question I ask is:

What ways can you use silhouettes to compose a great picture?

Full Human Dwarfed By Environment

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It’s important to have the full human body for scale. [Yangshuo, China]

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The quality of reflected light here is just stunning. Silhouettes require good lighting. [Taiyuan, China]


People As Human Disruption Objects

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The man disrupts the railing pattern. Emphasizes that he’s THERE. [Chongqing, China]

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Again, human placed to disrupt building pattern. And again, I think it emphasizes his humanness.

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Woman waits at the Chinese version of Disneyland. [Shenzhen, China]

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This picture is strange. I love his hat’s outer glow. And how he and the other silhouettes interact visually. [Shanghai, China]

A disconcerting point about the above pictures is that they feel more human by taking away the face. Perhaps any human is more relatable than human.


Strange Fruit Hangin’

The next three categories are composed of non-building, non-human silhouettes. This first category is simply silhouettes of strange objects, hanging. I’m not entirely comfortable making the Strange Fruit reference. Hmmm. What a beautiful, sad song. Let me know if this connection is offensive.

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Pants. [Kaiping, China]

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Temple adornment. [Huhot, Inner Mongolia, China]


Strange Line Hangin’

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Look at the movement of the line. Love the lightbulb. [Fenyang, China]

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Tassle. [Chengdu, China]

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Squiggle. The big black bulge is key. [Guangzhou, China]

Multi-Line Interaction

This classification is relatively obvious after the last category. However, there is a big difference in the type of lines portrayed. In the single line category, the line is must be dynamic enough to stimulate interest as a single object. In this multi-line category, the lines are more likely to be straight and/or geometric because a bunch of curvy complexity creates a random picture, not one with intention.

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Lines. Pole. Good distance between them. [Fenyang, China]

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Lines have just enough pattern. I like the pipe texture near the connection to concrete. [Fenyang, China]

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Again on the edge of organized chaos. [Fenyang, China]

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Breaking up pattern (fence) with another (wires). Look at where each item exists on the z-axis. It’s surprising. Also, arguably not a silhouette because of the amount of lighting on the fence. [Fenyang, China]

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Repeating crosses thrown onto the background. [Xilamuren Grasslands, Inner Mongolia, China]


Until Next Time

What are the areas of exploration for human and non-building silhouettes? I don’t have any multiple person silhouettes. The “strange objects hanging” group is ripe for further pushing. Also, I could concentrate more on the interaction between cool sky elements and silhouettes. I don’t touch on that at all here.

Join me next time when we look at Silhouettes Part 2: Buildings and Sky. As always, hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts in picture form! Drop questions/comments to me somewhere on the internet!

The Time Has Come!

Welcome to my blog. It’s mostly a photo blog, but I’ll transition to add music and straight ideas over time. A true photo blog like this has been long time coming. I have concentrated on photography three times in my life: Nepal, The Colorado Trail, and now, China. For Nepal and The Colorado Trail, I used Facebook as my medium to show pictures and convey my thoughts. As I put more thought into my photography, I found that there was an incongruity between how I was displaying my work and what I was displaying. In essence, I found that Facebook was too casual for what I wanted to express. I want to express first-class ideas through the lens of photography. I want make art, I guess. And this blog feels like a much better place to do that than Facebook.

Photo Series 1: My Stories From China

This photo blog will be split into three separate series. Photo Series 1: My Stories From China is the most personal, the most relatable, the most fun. Posts in this category will mostly be told in a linear, story-like fashion. Here are some stories I’m excited to tell:

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[Fenyang, China]

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[Dongguan, China]

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[Nanjing, China]

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[Macao, China]

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[Chengdu, China]

Photo Series 2: Understanding China

In Photo Series 2: Understanding China, I’ll present some of the ideas to help us understand the unique way in which China operates. I’ll take us from the personal (My Stories From China) to the societal. Here are a few choice pictures from this series:

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[Suzhou, China]

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[Chongqing, China]

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[Mt. Old Grandfather, China]

 

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[Dongguan, China]

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[Hong Kong, China]

 

Photo Series 3: Photography in the Abstract

My final series is by far the most “highbrow”. In Photography in the Abstract, I zoom out one more level, from societal to cerebral. I would classify these theses under “Photography Theory”; the pictures found here are unconnected to a specific time or place.

I define abstract pictures as ones that are: not interesting for my personal story AND don’t reflect a truth about China/life.

Abstract pictures are difficult to differentiate because:

1. I have defined them as the not of two other concepts, and therefore there are lots of pictures, none of which have inherent similarities.

2. They are the closest to art. There is no story/thesis behind them except for my arbitrary groupings.

What’s in store:

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Chillin' With The Watsons 249

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呼和哈特 206


Until Next Time

I am still low-budget/low-time in many ways: I use a point-and-shoot camera, I don’t do any post-production, and I don’t pay for this site. Nevertheless, I’m excited to explore this more serious approach to photography. Hope you enjoy my posts as much as I do. And please, do leave comments/questions here or on various social media. I’m open to feedback or just let me know if you simply enjoy it. Thanks!