It took a few viewings, but Daniel Tim’s Close Your Eyes It’s Too Much has grown on me. I’ve grown a little bit tired of straight-ahead street photography, and the book is just full of it, shot in Hong Kong, on film, and I’m ashamed to say that the first time(s) I flipped through it, I flipped quickly.
But after three or four times, I started to notice some things, not so much in the individual pictures, but in the relationships between them.
The book opens with a list of Hong Kong neighborhoods: Sham Shui Po, Cheung Sha Wan, Tsuen Wan, Kwun Tong, Mong Kok, Tsim Sha Tsui, Sheung Wan, North Point, Wan Chi. There’s a gap between Tsim Sha Tsui and Sheung Wan, echoing the Kowloon Bay that separates the last three neighborhoods on Hong Kong Island from the rest on mainland Hong Kong.
Text appears two more times in the body of the book. “Too Much Heartache” about a fifth of the way in and “Tears Are Prayers Too” at roughly halfway through. In both cases, the photographs immediately before and after show people who might be feeling similar sentiments. Maybe I’m projecting, but there’s a strong sense of anguish, alienation, frustration running through almost every frame.
As mentioned above, I just didn’t get it the first few times, but then it hit me: this is a book about sequencing, about pairings, mostly, more than the individual photos themselves.
A skinny old man sits in a doorway, garbage strewn around him, wearing a typical old Chinese man scowl of annoyed disapproval, right next to a slightly less skinny, attractive young woman, sitting on the floor in a department store, a phone to her ear and a shopping bag between her knees.
A woman in a striped dress looks at us with a mixture of disturbed curiosity while tourists in the background point across the gutter at a young man, halfway down the block, giving us the stink eye.
A man with his back to us, one arm akimbo, the other invisible to us, holding a phone or a cigarette, the ponytail back of his do rag and the way his arm is cocked echoing the young woman stretching out a leg on the railing of a pier, pleasure boats and yachts lined up in the distance.
Women looking at each other across the gutter: one looks intently into a parking garage or car showroom, while the other looks out the window of a subway car. “Is this my stop?” Loads of people clutch or stare at phones, oblivious;* several women turn, “Really? You’re taking my picture? Perv.”
But, again, maybe I’m projecting.
And this isn’t to say that the photos don’t work individually. Tim knows what he’s doing with his street photography. His layering is good and he has a good sense of gesture and timing, but for me the real star of the show is his sequencing.
Close Your Eyes It’s Too Much is available on demand from Blurb, so it’s a bit expensive. I got my copy from Tim’s (defunct, as of 2019) website some time ago and paid somewhat less. Tim was on Jon Wilkening’s Creative Bar podcast some time ago, talking about his process and technique (and the book, beginning at minute 49), and it’s worth a listen. And he’s active on Twitter, so maybe give him a follow.
*We’re so boring now…. That said, I came across an interesting thread last week on Twitter. Tim Johns boasted about shouting through a megaphone at passersby to get off their phones, and the Twitterati laid into him. It seems that many people use their smartphones for actual, important, business, or to help keep their social anxiety at bay. I’m sympathetic to this view, but miss the good old days, when we weren’t all always on our phones, back in, say, 2005, even.