Photoessay: A few cityscapes

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any pure-photoessays, so I thought I’d rectify that oversight today. This series of images is not so much a photoessay as perhaps a collection of cityscapes: I have to ask myself, does the photograph represent the feeling or emotion I get when I’m in that place, in that city? Some images cover a broader sweep, some are merely vignettes.

Shot over the year or so with a variety of cameras and lenses; EXIF data is intact on flickr if you click through the images and look at the right-hand panel. Enjoy! MT

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Putrajaya, Malaysia

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Putrajaya, Malaysia

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Melaka, Malaysia

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Hong Kong

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Kuala Lumpur

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Kuala Lumpur

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Le Pont, Switzerland

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Tokyo

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Kuala Lumpur

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Magritte in Kuala Lumpur

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Kuala Lumpur

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Bangkok

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Prague

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Prague

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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. I’ve just randomly found your site when typing into google: “what makes a good photographer?” :-) Excellent images, I particularly like the pic of the trees in Malaysia!

  2. Hi Ming

    Personally I’ve been missing your Just photo blog posts. (was actually going to request some shots)
    Mainly because seeing Good and Pleasing shots motivate me more than anything else.

    I like your work
    which inspires me to practice and shoot more.

    Thanks always for these ^__^
    – Collins

    • Thanks Collins. There are more on the way. Trouble is I’ve been tied up with client work that subsequently gets embargoed and un-releasable, so I haven’t really had much time to make images for myself.

  3. Carlo Santin says:

    A nice set of photos. Honestly, I cannot tell the difference from camera to camera, that’s how good modern digital cameras are. There is no discernible difference between the Sony RX100 pic and the FF D600 or Leica M9. I know that many people, in defense of their camera system, claim that there is, but in real world shooting the differences are quite miniscule.

    • Thanks Carlos – at larger viewing sizes, there’s definitely a difference; not at web size. And if you don’t know the abilities of the camera/ limitations of it sensor well, then you can quite easily run into situations where the differences – dynamic range, lens weaknesses for instance – become obvious. I generally try to work around this: something like the D600 has a much larger shooting envelope than the RX100 does, for instance. But if they’re both used optimally, no, there isn’t as much difference as you’d expect for most purposes.

  4. Honestly, this set left me cold Ming. To me those shots look like composition exercises, no stories, no spontaneity, lifeless, sterile, ah well. It’s not so much about the lack of people in most of them. Post-apocalyptic ? C’mon …
    So what about the answer to above question ? Do they represent your feelings or emotions you had … or if not, what else ?

    • Were they really that bad? Landscapes and still lifes are planned composition exercises. They don’t always have a story and can’t be spontaneous because they don’t move. I’m standing by my images here: I like the way they look, and since the sole image here that was shot for a client made the client very happy, whether anybody else likes them or not is moot. Can’t please everybody all the time…art being subjective and all that.

      • I think it important that you labeled these “Cityscapes,” and they are just that, and they are damn good. Something called “Life in the City” would be very different — full of stories, people, etc. That’s for another essay.

        • Thanks James. I do have plenty of ‘reporting on life’ style images already – perhaps that’s why I’ve unconsciously created this expectation when it comes to my photoessays…:)

      • David Babsky says:

        “..I like the way they look, and since the sole image here that was shot for a client made the client very happy, whether anybody else likes them or not is moot..”

        You’re saying, in effect, that whatever pleases any of us is OK. So why run a photo school? And you’re not really giving any reasons WHY you think these are good, in response to a little criticism, or viewers’ thoughts. Your response seems to be “well, they’re sterile, but I just like them that way”. We can see that they’re well lit, we can see that they’re very angular, we can see that they’re devoid of people, for the most part.

        So apart from the verticals being vertical (mainly) and the Prague shot being “moody”, what is it that makes these so great, and what is “..the feeling or emotion I get when I’m in that place, in that city?..” ..in these cities, exactly. What are those feelings that these conjure up in you about, say, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo and Switzerland?

        • Isn’t that what art is about? I’m not creating clones with the photo school, though if people like my images and want to understand the process that goes into making them, it’s as much pleasing them as anything else.

          Cities are plays on density, integration with nature/ artifice, dirt/ cleanliness and color and form vs function. Each city has a ‘fingerprint‘ – New York would be dense, artificial, fairly clean and monochromatically geometric, for instance; Kuala Lumpur is moderately dense, mostly artificial, dirty, colorful, and somewhat chaotic with only a superficial consideration given to forms, but more in the current era as those commissioning buildings get more affluent. Putrajaya is open, very artificial/ not an organic evolution, clean, and with more consideration to form than function. The cityscapes – in the same people-less vein as landscapes, whose rationale I explained earlier – are reflections of the way I see each city’s fingerprint.

          I’m now more curious why these images provoke such a strongly negative and critical response that you have to make me defend my compositions? I’ve posted thousands of images here without much negativity, some of which I’ve felt personally is weaker than this set – so why choose this set to single out? Also…if one’s batting average runs this high normally, I think an off day or two should be forgivable. I certainly haven’t seen any other photographers who post with my frequency, level of consistency/ quality and diversity of subjects.

      • David Babsky says:

        We-ell, a short reply now, as we’re going out in about a quarter of an hour.. “..you have to make me defend my compositions..” ..you don’t have to feel “defensive”, Ming: I just enquired “Where’s the humanity? Apart from those ants on the Tokyo streets, where are the people?”. And I said “I find these pictures very ‘rigid’, without much sense of life within these cities”. And Ken K said “this set left me cold Ming. To me those shots look like composition exercises, no stories, no spontaneity, lifeless, sterile”.

        I asked “..what is “..the feeling or emotion I get when I’m in that place, in that city?..” ..in these cities, exactly”. And you then described the attributes of various cities “..New York would be dense, artificial, fairly clean and monochromatically geometric, for instance; Kuala Lumpur is moderately dense, mostly artificial, dirty, colorful, and somewhat chaotic”, but those aren’t descriptions of emotions, they’re just categorisations or observations.

        You say “..why [do] these images provoke such a strongly negative and critical response that you have to make me defend my compositions?” ..that’s it: they’re compositions. But one associates “cities” with “life” – or at least I do – and these do seem to be lifeless ‘compositions’. And they do seem to be without emotion.

        I don’t think that cities are just “..plays on density, integration with nature/ artifice, dirt/ cleanliness..” etc. I think that cities’ essential attributes are people ..but, of course, we may all differ in what we think cities are. So I was asking about the emotional links which you mentioned at the very start ..you said “..does the photograph represent the feeling or emotion I get when I’m in that place, in that city?..” and, to me at any rate, these are utterly emotion-less. And Ken K seems to feel the same.

        My responses have not been intentionally “negative” ..they’ve been asking “why” and “what”.

        There is no need for you to be “defensive” ..I’m simply asking “what’s the emotional tie-in with these cities?” because I just don’t see one. You’ve said that there is one ..”the feeling or emotion I get when I’m in that place”, and I’m asking what and where those emotions are. You haven’t described your emotions, neither in the pictures, nor in what these pictures evoke in you, I think. They do look like ‘compositions’ ..but rather “soul-less”, to me.

        Now we’re going out, and so I can’t reply – if you do want any reply – till late tomorrow, sorry.

        • It seems there’s a bit of schism in communication here – personally, ‘cold’ or ‘dirty’ is definitely a feeling in my book. When I look at the images, I *do* feel like I felt when I was in those places – there are no people because there’s definitely a feeling of loneliness and abandonment – at least for me. I’m in the same vicinity as a few million other people but feel that I have no real connection to any of them except for the environment we share. Of course, what you feel – and thus how that translates into a photograph – will differ very much from person to person based on your perception of normalcy. As you can probably tell, I’m a misogynestic loner most of the time. :)

      • David Babsky says:

        Yes, you seem to relate to structures and ‘artifice’ (manufactured or built shapes and constructions) rather than, I’d say, to individuals, judging by these pics. So you feel “loneliness and abandonment” in cities? ..then I think these pics do convey that. But misogyny? ..I doubt it, judging by your admiring and admirable pics of your fair Nadiah. A “loner”? ..Yes, these pictures convey that. At least you’re not an aggressive, abusive loner like Bruce Gilden seems to be ..punching his flash into passing-by faces!

        These, then, do convey perfectly your own feelings. Success! ..And that, I think, is what’s so “upsetting” or unsettling about these pictures; they are soul-less, devoid of empathy with humanity. They show the results of human activity, but not any engagement with it.

        I just prefer your “people” pictures, such as your Doyle Shafer shot, down on the floor! (..I hope that links correctly to http://www.flickr.com/photos/mingthein/8106908477/lightbox/ )

        The pure engineering – or artistry and craftsmanship – pictures, as in watches, work gloriously. So do your “people in their environment” pictures. But those ‘dead’ cityscapes just don’t enthuse me ..sorry. But don’t take that badly ..others may be ecstatic about them!

        • Oh, not at all. It’s interesting to see how other people perceive things – knowing your audience at the time of shooting is critical to getting the result/ reaction you want, because I think photography is as much about human psychology as it is about observation and visual science.

          I relate to the structures in the same way I relate to watches and mechanical objects – engineered things. Architecture is much the same, but I do think there’s a need to include a human element there so you can see how the end users are interacting with the building. Perhaps not so much for these cityscapes – I’ve always felt very alone and isolated in these places because people tend to have their guard up a bit, be very intent on their activities and just go straight from place to place without any open, friendly – spontaneous – interactions. In fact, one of the reasons I left London was because of this: I felt very alone in a city of 11 million people, and constrained in personal space at the same time. Oddly enough, Tokyo feels very different to me: it’s busy, alive, people do interact, but somehow they just ‘flow’ – like water in a way – cohesively, smoothly and around each other and obstacles without any turbulence or disruptions. I suppose that’s very much in the same vein as the Japanese cultural psyche, too. Perhaps that’s why the ‘motion’ images from my last set in Tokyo worked.

  5. I especially liked the Hong Kong photo. The faded greens and blues appeal to me :)

  6. These are certainly images to be proud of. I especially like Putrajaya (#1), Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur (overpass), and Bangkok. Very nice.

  7. David Babsky says:

    “..does the photograph represent the feeling or emotion I get when I’m in that place, in that city?..”

    Hmm. Where’s the humanity? Apart from those ants on the Tokyo streets, where are the people? I get the impression of a photographer who likes structures and shapes but who has no interest in humans ..composition is all; humanity is nothing..

    • Perhaps it’s my own characterisation of cityscapes: landscapes don’t usually have people in them; I think of cityscapes as the same thing but with man-made environments instead. Man is present through his shaping of his environment. And you know from my photojournalism and reportage work that not having interest in humanity is quite the complete opposite of the way I work…

      • David Babsky says:

        Hmm. (Thinks.) I just find them a bit ‘sterile’, except for those trees in that very zen-like Putrajaya picture, which is gorgeous, and which I could happily look at for ever! I must admit to having taken a similar night view of Bangkok, but looking towards the river, with all the life that floats on it! (..water taxis, long-tail boats, and so on..)

        But I find these pictures very ‘rigid’, without much sense of life within these cities ..a bit like the dead, abandoned city of ‘Twelve Monkeys’. Apart from the Tokyo shot, these could be post-neutron-bomb cities, after all the people had been killed off – to my twisted mind, anyway!

        • Hey, if we all felt the same way about composition, then we’d all have rather boring and samey images…I personally quite like the post-apocalyptic feel in the images, and processed for it color-wise :)

  8. Thank you! I needed that!

  9. Fantastic Shots! I like how you captured the second shot as it has that magic to it. Is there a Disney Theme park in Melaka?

  10. eyal greengrass says:

    Outstanding work, specially loved 1,2 & 4 and magritte! (lost count there)

  11. Putrajaya looks amazing!

  12. Excellent captures!

  13. ArtQuenchGallery.com likes these images!

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