Blur as protagonist: an attempt to take the pulse of the city

By Danilo Leonardi

I asked myself what my strongest perception is of being in London. It is a mixture of images and sound: the sheer volume of the movement of crowds and vehicles in the street, together with all accompanying sounds, colours, and smells, and not forgetting to mention the noise of all kinds of sirens, the occasional hovering of helicopters and the many aircraft flying low or crisscrossing the sky as the vapour trails attest to it.

Piccadilly Circus.
The fountain in Piccadilly Circus (the one with Eros on top) always seems to attract crowds. GFX50R with a GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens.

The ebb and flow of this constant state of motion, this cacophony which is more or less strident depending on the time of day, is in large measure what creates a picture of this city for me. A picture that I believe is part of my own “automatic pilot” – i.e., all those things of which we are not readily aware unless we try to think about them.

Piccadilly Circus.
Piccadilly Circus at sunset: GFX50R with a GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens.

Could I condense all this jumble of disparate facts and details into a few photographs that take the pulse of London?

Chiswick Part tube station
Chiswich Park Tube Stn. and a “brushstroke” of red. GFX100 with a GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens.
London Bridge
London Bridge. Traffic and pedestrians as seen from quite a distance. GFX50R and LZOS 3M 5A 500 mm f/8 mirror lens (8 times magnification, or expressed in 35 mm terms, equivalent to the angle of view of a 400 mm lens)

For guidance on what to photograph, I scrutinised my personal mythology of London.  I tried to bring to light what is in essence part of my “automatic pilot” when I think of London.  It is full of the tension of opposites, together with clusters of disconnected elements. London is home to some of the ultra-rich as well as those who find themselves queuing up at a soup kitchen. It is home for me.  Some of my mythology of the city comes from what I read or heard, and then probably forgotten, and it could be facts or stories connected with politics, culture, maybe even the economy.  Part of it must come from my daily experience of relying on its vast and not always efficient network of public transport which includes the tube, where, on a typical ride, you can often hear conversations or phone calls in many languages.  I chose to photograph in spots of Central London frequented by tourists, as well as in West London, and Greenwich.

 

China Town.
China Town: in the evenings, colour seems amplified and strengthened. GFX50R with a GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens.
Leicester Sq. Tube Station
Across the street from Leicester Sq. Tube station. Traffic and people, after a summer shower. GFX50R with a GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens

I gave movement a leading role by intentionally inverting the hierarchy of background and foreground in all these photographs.  I brought the flow of people and things to a position in the foreground, instead of relegating it to the backdrop of the image.

 

Oxford Circus tube station.
Oxford Circus Tube Stn.: GFX50R, handheld, with a GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens.

We all know from experience that we get on with our daily routines oblivious to the rumble of traffic, the colour of the cars and buses going up and down the street, or the fact that we are greeted by a London-specific absence of silence the moment we step out of a building. 

 

Covent Garden.
The “world” and a red phone booth in Covent Garden: GFX50R with a GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens.
Greenwich foot tunnel
Greenwich Foot Tunnel, from an ant’s viewpoint: GFX50R with a GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens.

Motion and the sense of perpetual movement are a feature that appears as a constant in my own image of the city.  The blurs I photographed add a see-through quality to solid objects.

Chiswick Part tube station
Chiswick Park Tube Stn.: the junction of Bollo Lane and Acton Lane. GFX100 and GF32-64 f/4 lens.
Chiswick Park tube station
Chiswick Park Tube Station. Incidentally, this building happens to be one of several iconic 1930s stations designed by Charles Holden. GFX100 with a GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens.

One more thought on the nature of movement. Whenever there is movement, there is always a becoming. One thing becomes another. If I were to explain differently my task in this project, I would say that I aimed to photograph journeys of becoming. The blurs in the photographs depict the bridges created by travel from point A to point B. Our naked eyes do not see those “in-between” times. Our mind’s eye does. A long exposure is an artifice that does too: passing vehicles become trails of lights or shapes akin to brushstrokes of colour. People become like ghosts of themselves or a succession of traces of the different positions they occupied for the duration of the photographic exposure. To me, it all appeared often as a kind of motion with a life of its own, as if it did not require agents for its existence and therefore, if the movement I was photographing could do away with the people and things that support it physically.

Human beings create ghosts of themselves.
Human beings create ghosts of themselves. GFX50R with a GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens.
Liverpool St. station.
Liverpool St. station: movement seems to take a life of its own.  GFX50R with a GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens.
Liverpool St. Station.
Liverpool St. station: GFX50R with a GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens.
Liverpool St. Station.
Liverpool St. station: GFX50R with a GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens.

The question seems to remain: the pulse of the city, or an attempt to make visible what is part of my own created picture of London?  The answer is open-ended. Objectivity might not be possible, or even relevant for this project.  I have searched within and focused on the city where I live, and now I would like to leave the reader with three more photographs.

Covent Garden Tube Station
Covent Garden Tube Stn. The sun just came out after a short summer shower. GFX50R with a GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens
Leicester Sq. Tube Station area
Near Leicester Sq. Tube Station. Rainy day. GFX50R and GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens.
Leicester Sq. Tube Station area
Near Leicester Sq. Tube Station. Rainy day. GFX50R and GF 32-64 mm f/4 lens.

I photographed with a Fujifilm GFX 50 R camera I had on loan for 3 weeks, except for the pictures taken in West London, for which I used a Fujifilm GFX 100 (original) body that I was able to borrow for about three-quarters of an hour. I used for most of the pictures the Fujinon 32 to 64 mm f/4 zoom that came in the bag with the 50 R loan camera. I stopped it down to its smallest aperture, f/32, whenever it was possible. For all daytime images, I gave the lens “variable sunglasses”: I used the high-quality fader filter I normally reserve for video work. For most of the photographs, the cameras were placed on the sturdiest of my tripods. Exposure times never exceeded 10 or 15 seconds, and the cameras were set at the lowest native ISO, unless the photograph had to be taken with the camera in my hands, in which case I would do the usual: speed up the shutter (but not too much, as I wanted to capture motion blur), open the lens and/or raise the sensitivity. On several occasions, I adapted liberally from my arsenal of F-mount lenses, for example, the USSR-made mirror lens, the LZOS (Lytkarino Optical Glass Factory) 3M-5A 500 mm f./8 that I used for one of the images I selected for this article. I settled on the panoramic aspect ratio of 24:65 because the width of a panorama makes an image look truer to the world seen with both eyes open. The coverage offered by the F-mount lenses was good, as the 24:65 aspect ratio is a crop on the 33 by 44 mm imaging sensor in the GFX bodies. The resulting pictures are either 25 or 50 megapixels in size, depending on the body in use. The selection of lenses (or the position of the zoom) was simply guided by whether I wanted to take in more or less of the scene. All these photographs were taken a few months before the start of COVID times.

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About The Author

By Danilo Leonardi
Danilo embraced the philosophy of always having a camera by his side because some time ago he realised that he cannot stop seeing pictures. He currently freelances as a photographer and videographer. He is also an instructor, and his learners tell him that they like the way he demystifies things for them. His interest in all things photographic started when his aunt Elsa gave him a Kodak Brownie Fiesta for his 5th birthday. Contact him via his Instagram @daniloleonardiphotography
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Comments

Charles Higham on Blur as protagonist: an attempt to take the pulse of the city

Comment posted: 04/01/2024

Lovely compositions, colours and movement Danilo. I've been trying panoramic formats too, they do have an immersive quality.
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Danilo Leonardi replied:

Comment posted: 04/01/2024

Panos do add an immersive dimension to the compositions, I fully agree. I much appreciate your feedback. Thank you so much

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Art Meripol on Blur as protagonist: an attempt to take the pulse of the city

Comment posted: 03/01/2024

love the idea and the follow through. Great post.
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Danilo Leonardi replied:

Comment posted: 03/01/2024

Thank you so much for your very positive feedback! Your kind words mean a lot to me.

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Danilo Leonardi on Blur as protagonist: an attempt to take the pulse of the city

Comment posted: 03/01/2024

Thank you so much for your kind words! You encouraged me to do some more self-reflection... I think that in the street, I tend to press the release button when a scene somehow resonates with me and now that I think of it, this seems to happen when there is a certain “vibration” or maybe it’s a “reaction” I feel towards something I see, although often I feel like a “collector of images", things I want to keep to go back to later. When I use film it's the extra expectation of the wait, too. I'm sure your images have their unique quality - it's always inspirational to see the interpretations and visions all the diverse contributors bring to 35mmc.
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Bradley Newman on Blur as protagonist: an attempt to take the pulse of the city

Comment posted: 03/01/2024

Truly inspirational. The shot of the couple on the bridge made my jaw drop. Thanks for sharing!
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Danilo Leonardi replied:

Comment posted: 03/01/2024

Oh wow, thank you! Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts! Much appreciated.

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Gary on Blur as protagonist: an attempt to take the pulse of the city

Comment posted: 03/01/2024

Great shots, and thank you for posting them. I'll have to try this on my Z6 with the image cropped in camera to be more panoramic, although I doubt I'll match the quality of a medium format camera.
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Danilo Leonardi replied:

Comment posted: 03/01/2024

Thank you, Gary, for your kind words and for engaging with the photos! Your comment regarding the medium format as compared to a full-frame camera, made me curious and inspired me to run a few numbers to try to work out differences. The starting point is the panoramic format used in the article, which is 24:65. I share my musings below: 1. The medium format sensor used for the pictures in this article, dimensions and format: • Native Format: 3:4 (roughly 33 mm x 44 mm) • Total Area: roughly 1,452 square millimeters • Panoramic Crop 24:65 on the medium format sensor: • Dimensions: 44 mm (long side) and 16 mm (short side) • Pano Crop Area: 715 square millimeters (50% of sensor) • Megapixels: • 50 MP sensor → 25 MP panoramic crop • 100 MP sensor → 50 MP panoramic crop 2. The full frame camera sensor you mentioned, its dimensions and format: • Native Format: 2:3 (roughly 24 mm x 36 mm) • Total Area: roughly 864 square millimeters • Panoramic Crop 24:65 on the full-frame sensor: • Dimensions: 36 mm (long side) and 13 mm (short side) • Pano Crop Area: 478 square millimeters (55% of sensor) • Megapixels: • 24 MP sensor → 13 MP panoramic crop 3. Comparison: • It is most interesting to see the effect that the 3:4 vs. 2:3 format has on the surface used for this particular pano crop. • Due to the pano crop's surface usage: • The pano surface on the medium format sensor used in the article (714 sq mm) is 30% larger than the pano surface on a full frame sensor (478 sq mm). • Comparing total areas (i.e. the whole surface of the sensor, not the pano crop), the medium format sensor is roughly 60% larger than the full frame camera sensor. So thank you for inspiring me to look into this. All the best.

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Tony Warren on Blur as protagonist: an attempt to take the pulse of the city

Comment posted: 02/01/2024

Brilliant Danilo. The use of the panoramic format really heightens the feeling of tension. And the long exposure movement really completes the feeling you were after. And the quality from those large format digitals - whew! Tony.
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Danilo Leonardi replied:

Comment posted: 02/01/2024

I'm so grateful for your positive feedback, Tony. When resorting to panoramas I think it’s important that I connect the format to the substance of what I’m trying to say, otherwise it could all become a bit gimmicky, i.e. as in the case of a format searching for an audience... That’s why I'm so thrilled that you found the use of the panoramic format effective in enhancing the tension in this particular case. As I mentioned in response to another comment, I've been delving into panoramic formats for some time. I actually used panoramas photographed with a film camera (one with a rotary shutter that uses the 24 by 58 mm size on 35 mm film) in an article I published on Analog.cafe a while back. If you're curious, you can find the article here: https://www.analog.cafe/r/nostalgia-for-an-undefined-something-5avv. Thanks again for your thoughtful insights.

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Erik Brammer on Blur as protagonist: an attempt to take the pulse of the city

Comment posted: 02/01/2024

I agree with everything said: This is a fantastic series. And the 65:24 aspect ratio works really well here.
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Danilo Leonardi replied:

Comment posted: 02/01/2024

Thanks a ton for your feedback! Agree on the panoramic aspect ratio – it adds a special dimension. I've been experimenting with panoramic formats in film too. Actually, I used it for an article on Analog.cafe a while back titled "Nostalgia for an undefined something." If you're interested, here's the link: https://www.analog.cafe/r/nostalgia-for-an-undefined-something-5avv. Thank you again.

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Frank Williams on Blur as protagonist: an attempt to take the pulse of the city

Comment posted: 02/01/2024

Very well thought out Danilo, Your explanation and interpretation of London City in motion is excellent. Frank Williams
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Danilo Leonardi replied:

Comment posted: 02/01/2024

Thank you so much, Frank, for your kind words! I'm thrilled you enjoyed my take on London City in motion.

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Geoff Chaplin on Blur as protagonist: an attempt to take the pulse of the city

Comment posted: 02/01/2024

Excellent concept and execution! Blur is a very effective tool in many situation and well used here. Thanks for the article.
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Dorota Boisot replied:

Comment posted: 02/01/2024

Very well don, Danilo. Your text is interesting and I like your expressions like "your mithology of London" or "automatic pilot". I love your pictures - simple things become interesting with blur. Bravo!

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Danilo Leonardi replied:

Comment posted: 02/01/2024

Thank you for taking the time to share your positive feedback—it truly means a lot.

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Danilo Leonardi replied:

Comment posted: 02/01/2024

Thank you so much, Dorota. I'm delighted you enjoyed those expressions.

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Alec Brown on Blur as protagonist: an attempt to take the pulse of the city

Comment posted: 02/01/2024

These are fantastic shots Danilo. Truly inspirational.
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Danilo Leonardi replied:

Comment posted: 02/01/2024

Wow! Knowing that you find the shots fantastic and inspirational means a lot to me. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment.

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