Scaling down your perspective but not the level of import are central tenets of a solid hyperlocal approach. What is large matters, but in the hyperlocal lens two things happen: the large, the big, the national “stories” take on a different patina — and events that matter within a particular square mile (and not beyond) become personal, and within a square block intensely so. These become approachable, and almost tangible — we feel them viscerally because they touch places and people familiar to us. This shrinking makes it real.
The national debt deal, for example, while surely impactful to all, is abstract; one’s city council giving themselves all a raise in the middle of a recession is concrete. The neighbor who decides to breed large dogs in his back yard represents more of a gut-punch to a community than almost any havoc that a distant Congressman can wreak. The smaller a subject, the more immediately relevant it is.
This all might seem obvious, but likely only upon reflection. We forget how important proximity is — situational geo-fences border our most distinct concerns like the unseen 18 inches that separate your face from mine when conversing. Come closer and you’ve become a problem.
Ben Thomas understands these subtleties. While his art did not set out to illuminate it, when I pointed out how his imagery served, for me, as a metaphor for hyperlocal he said, “I havent really thought of the cityshrinker series like that before, but I think you’re spot on!”
Cityshrinker is Thomas’s series of photographs using the “tilt-shift” method popular today with iPhotogs, among others. But Thomas has taken things to another level, looking at broad swaths of a city and closing in, intimately like an innocent voyeur, on one naked breath among millions billowing to the beat of a city’s drumming heart.
I caught up with Thomas recently and posed a few questions that might help understand a little better his hyperlocal serendipity. The photographer, who started out shooting music videos in his hometown of Adelaide, picked up an SLR camera five years ago, moved to Melbourne and hasn’t looked back.
How did you come to create cityshrinker?
Cityshrinker is now approaching its fifth year. At the time, there really wasn’t a lot published when it came to tilt-shift photography. Certainly, no one had attempted to take on multiple cities. I still think there is a lot of ground that cityshrinker has not yet covered … and indeed many cities needing shrinking.
So, why cities?
For years, my favorite part of flying into a new city is was watching the seemingly impossibly small buildings from the sky. I think there is something great to be said for taking the familiar and showing it in a whole new way. One of the highlights of this series was watching one of the Federation Square (Melbourne) lead architects looking at his many years of work from a different perspective. Cool stuff.
Why did you choose the cities you did?
Japan is still one of my favorite destinations. I can’t get enough of the place. Fortunately, the series has exhibited in a number of other countries which has presented opportunities to shoot.
Tilt-shifting has enjoyed a lot of popularity recently. How did you come to it? What are your techniques?
I had seen the technique used by a couple of artists, however it was Vincent LaForet’s series that inspired me to start playing with the art of shrinking.
My technique differs depending on the situation but in the main, it is based on an adjustment of an image’s depth of field. This is achieved though a specialised tilt-shift lens, or though some photoshop love. From here, attention to color and balance is where the real time is spent.
How has tilt-shifting changed your view (figuratively) of cities?
There is so much that every city has in common: on first glance a skyscraper is a skyscraper, but its the individuality of each city that makes not only the experience of being there special, but shooting it great.
When you draw attention to the smaller features of a city — its people, a cab, a line of trees or even patch of weeds, you then start to get a picture of what makes a city liveable, a community.
When photographing cities you bring a warm closeness to the pictures… not only are the typical elements there (toy-town feel) but also a sense of safety in an otherwise dangerous place; order from chaotic rush. What feelings do you get from these images?
It’s easy to get distracted when you are surrounded by monolithic, overpowering towers, but when you draw attention to the smaller features of a city — its people, a cab, a line of trees or even patch of weeds, you then start to get a picture of what makes a city liveable, a community.
The metaphor of “shrinking” large spaces into narrowed focus is one shared by me when considering hyperlocal news and media. Does this resonate for you?
Success is dictated by how quickly you can connect, if you haven’t got the message across in the first few seconds you’ve lost them. Shrinking will often get attention but it’s the content that really tells the story.
I think the same can be said for news and media. The art of picking your audience, being able to relate, and maintaining a relationship has never been as important as now.
What cities are you planning on shooting next?
I’m heading to NYC in four weeks. I have had a small break in between cities but feel like the best of cityshrinker is about transpire. Ill be hitting up a few other cities in the U.S. — I can’t wait.
So, business model — How are you supporting yourself?
With my sexy legs 🙂
Uh-huh. Actually the series is available for sale privately through emailing email@example.com.
Rick Robinson’s Turf Talk column appears every Wednesday on Street Fight.